LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters Friday he will not seek an independent investigation of any of the four executions the state carried out in the past two weeks, saying the state Department of Correction’s routine internal review process will be sufficient.
“I see no reason for any investigation other than the routine review that is done after every execution,” Hutchinson said during a news conference at the Capitol on the morning after the execution Thursday night of Kenneth Williams.
“From what I have seen, the routine review is what should be accomplished and expected and nothing more than that,” he said.
The Federal Public Defender’s Office in Little Rock and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas issued separate calls Friday for investigations. They expressed particular concern about Thursday night’s execution.
Prison officials said Williams was injected with the sedative midazolam at 10:52 p.m. and that at 10:55 p.m. he was seen moving for about 10 seconds. Witnesses with the news media said they saw Williams coughing, convulsing and lurching and could hear him making sounds even though a microphone into which he gave his final statement had been turned off.
According to prison officials, Williams had been injected with midazolam only at the time he was seen moving. They said the other two drugs in the state’s three-drug cocktail — the paralytic vecuronium bromide, which stops the lungs, and then potassium chloride, which stops the heart — were not administered until after Williams was determined to be unconscious. He was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m.
Scott Braden, one of the federal public defenders for Marcel Williams, who was executed Monday, said in a statement that Kenneth Williams’ movements on the execution gurney raise questions about whether the midazolam rendered him unconscious. The state may have violated Williams’ Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment, he said.
“Once the paralytic has been administered to the prisoner, it is impossible to know what the prisoner is experiencing,” Braden said. “If the midazolam fails to keep the prisoner under anesthesia, the prisoner would be awake and aware but unable to move or speak or even open his eyes, so he would then look completely serene despite being in agony.”
He said his office has the same questions about Marcel Williams’ execution, as well as Ledell Lee’s execution on April 20 and Jack Jones’ execution, which was carried out Monday before Marcel Williams’.
Braden’s office also filed a motion Friday seeking an order that the state must preserve evidence related to Kenneth Williams’ execution, and U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker granted the motion.
Hutchinson originally scheduled eight executions over an 11-day span this month, hoping to use the state’s supply of midazolam before it expired at the end of April. Four of the executions were postponed because of court stays.
Rita Sklar, executive director of the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, called Friday for an investigation of Kenneth Williams’ execution, saying in a statement that the witnesses’ accounts “raise serious questions about whether the state, in its rush to use up its supply of midazolam before it expired, has violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.”
Hutchinson told reporters Friday that based on what he was told by Kelley and saw in the record, he believes Williams coughed after the midazolam was administered.
“If you look at the package inserts for midazolam, you see one of the side effects is coughing,” he said.
Asked if reports on the internal reviews would be made public, Hutchinson said, “There will be no written report. I’ve not asked for that.”
He said calling for written reports would imply a need for more than a routine review, and he said he saw no such need.
Hutchinson also said he believes Arkansans have confidence in the lethal-injection procedure and said he has not ordered the Department of Correction to obtain a new supply of midazolam at this time.