GRADY — Death row inmate Kenneth Williams of Pine Bluff was executed Thursday night for the 1999 murder of Grady resident Cecil Boren.
Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves said the lethal injection process began at 10:52 p.m. and that at 10:55 p.m. Williams shook for 10 seconds. Williams was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m.
Williams had only been given a sedative at the time his body shook, Graves said. The execution team determined that Williams was unconscious before proceeding to administer drugs to stop his lungs and heart, he said.
Williams, 38, was responsible for the deaths of four people in total. He was sentenced to life in prison after he kidnapped and fatally shot 19-year-old University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff student Dominique Hurd in 1998. He was sentenced to death after escaping the Department of Correction’s Cummins Unit in 1999 and murdering Grady farmer Cecil Boren, 57, a former assistant warden at the unit.
He was captured only after causing a fatal auto collision with water-delivery driver Michael Greenwood, 24, in southern Missouri. In 2005 he admitted to murdering Jerrell Jenkins, 36, in Pine Bluff on the same day he killed Hurd.
Williams became the fourth person executed in Arkansas since April 20, the state’s first executions since Eric Nance was put to death in 2005. Williams was executed via lethal injection at the Cummins Unit near Grady.
Originally set for 7 p.m., Williams’ execution was delayed while the U.S. Supreme considered and ultimately rejected motions by his attorneys seeking a stay. His attorneys argued that he had an intellectual disability and that juror misconduct occurred at his trial, among other things.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement after the execution, “The long path of justice ended tonight and Arkansans can reflect on the last two weeks with confidence that our system of laws in this state has worked. Carrying out the penalty of the jury in the Kenneth Williams case was necessary. There has never been a question of guilt.”
Hutchinson said that over the last seven days, “after decades of waiting, the families of Debra Reese, Christine Lewis, Mary Phillips, Lorraine Anne Barrett, Stacy Errickson, Nikki Hurd, Jerrell Jenkins and Cecil Boren were finally provided the justice they were promised and they also saw that our system of laws have meaning.”
Hutchinson scheduled eight executions between April 17 and Thursday, which would have been the most executions in such a condensed time period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
The state was racing to complete the executions before its supply of one of the drugs used in the execution process, the sedative midazolam, expired at the end of the month.
Legal challenges delayed four of the executions. Ledell Lee was executed April 20. Jack Jones Jr. and Marcel Williams were executed back-to-back Monday.
Fellow death-row inmate Jason McGehee was scheduled to be executed Thursday immediately prior to Kenneth Williams. But his case was put on hold after the Arkansas Parole Board recommended he receive clemency.
Greenwood’s widow and daughter bought plane tickets for Williams’ daughter and granddaughter to visit the prison before his execution. On Thursday, the widow and daughter sent a letter to Hutchinson requesting a temporary reprieve for Williams.
Greenwood’s widow, Stacey Yaw, wrote that her daughter had not had the chance to meet her father’s killer and receive closure. Kayla Greenwood, Greenwood’s daughter, wrote that her family had not been alerted to Williams’ clemency hearing earlier in April. If they had, she wrote that she would have spoken to the parole board in favor of commuting his sentence so that he could positively influence others’ lives.
Hutchinson responded to the Greenwood family shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday. In a statement, the governor said he appreciated “the genuine spirit of forgiveness and compassion demonstrated by Ms. Greenwood.”
“Her letter certainly has an impact, however my responsibility is to look at the totality of the case including the view of all the victims and the interest of justice,” Hutchinson said. “Kenneth Williams murdered multiple people, and actions have consequences.”
According to an email distributed to the news media Thursday, Williams contacted freelance journalist Deborah Robinson on Thursday afternoon and provided an 1,808-word statement titled “Last Words.”
Williams credited the mother of Hurd and the daughter of Michael Greenwood with planting the seed so he could become a born-again Christian.
“I have been forever changed, forever grateful because of ‘Extreme Grace Unmerited,’” he wrote. “Amen.”
Graves said Williams received Holy Communion in lieu of his last meal. Prison officials delivered a tray to his cell between 3 and 4 p.m. with a meal identical to that received by the general Cummins population Thursday, but Graves said he did not know whether Williams ate from it.
The meal consisted of two pieces of fried chicken, barbecued beans, sweet rice, whole kernel corn, stewed seasoned tomatoes, two cinnamon rolls, two cookies, four slices of bread and fruit punch.
The Rev. Dewitt Hill, pastor of First Trinity Church of God in Pine Bluff, said he received a letter from Williams on Wednesday. In the letter, Williams wrote that he felt the execution was not going to happen, according to Hill, but if it did he was at peace. Williams wrote that he felt he was able to convert “most of the people on death row to God,” Hill said, adding that Williams had become a “student” of the Bible.
“His life is completely changed,” Hill said. “Reading the Bible, that’s the way to revival, and that’s the way it happened to him, seems like.”
Hill said he believed the Williams family had scheduled a service Friday evening at Christian Way Funeral Home in Pine Bluff for Williams. Hill, who owns the funeral home, said that he was scheduled to give the eulogy. Reached by telephone, an employee at the funeral home said she was not aware of any such service. The employee declined to give her name.