Movie-Like Twist Delays Second Arkansas Execution

Deaths were witnessed by a trio of pool journalists

The first double-execution of U.S. Death Row prisoners since 2000 began as scheduled Monday night in Grady, Ark. Jack Jones Jr., 52, was pronounced dead at 7:20 p.m. But then, some additional drama typically scripted in Hollywood unfolded.

From today’s front-page report in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette:

In interviews afterward, [AP reporter Andrew] DeMillo and two [other] news media witnesses reported no obvious signs of suffering or pain [by Jones Jr.].

But a federal court filing submitted shortly afterward described Jones’ execution as “torturous,” with the inmate “moving his lips and gulping for air” more than five minutes after the sedative drug, midazolam, was administered.

The filing by Williams’ attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker to postpone Williams’ execution. In response, the state attorney general’s office said the filing was “inaccurate” and that claims of Jones moving his lips and gasping were “unsupported by press accounts or the accounts of other witnesses.”

Nevertheless, the second execution of Marcel Williams, 46, was delayed for several hours while Judge Baker reviewed the case and held a hearing by telephone. The second inmate was put to death beginning at 10:16 p.m. and pronounced dead at 10:31 p.m. AP reporter Kelly Kissel was also among the media group of three who witnessed both deaths.

The excellent coverage by Democrat Gazette staff writers Eric Besson, Lisa Hammersly and Capitol Bureau reporter John Moritz includes a number of other chilling elements: full descriptions of each inmate’s final meal and some detailing of anti-death penalty protestors gathered outside the prison. Among those protesting was Randy Gardner, from Utah, whose brother was the last to die in the U.S. by firing squad.