Two inmates received lethal injections on the same gurney Monday night about three hours apart as Arkansas completed the nation's first double execution since 2000, just days after the state ended a nearly 12-year hiatus on administering capital punishment.
While the first inmate, Jack Jones, 52, was executed on schedule, shortly after 7pm, attorneys for the second, Marcel Williams, 46, convinced a federal judge minutes later to briefly delay his execution over concerns about how the earlier one was carried out.
They claimed Jones “was moving his lips and gulping for air,” an account the state's attorney general denied, but the judge lifted her stay about an hour later and Williams was pronounced dead at 10:33pm.
In the emergency filing, Williams' attorneys wrote that officials spent 45 minutes trying to place an IV line in Jones' neck before placing it elsewhere. It argued that Williams, who weighs 400 pounds, could face a “torturous” death because of his weight.
Intravenous lines are placed before witnesses are allowed access to the death chamber.
An Associated Press reporter who witnessed the execution said Jones moved his lips briefly after the midazolam was administered, and officials put a tongue depressor in his mouth intermittently for the first few minutes. His chest stopped moving two minutes after they checked for consciousness, and he was pronounced dead at 7:20 p.m.
Williams was already in the death chamber when the temporary stay was issued. He was escorted out of the chamber and used the restroom, then was brought back in after the stay was lifted.
Initially, Gov. Asa Hutchinson scheduled four double executions over an 11-day period in April.
The eight executions would have been the most by a state in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
The state said the executions needed to be carried out before its supply of one lethal injection drug expires on April 30.
Besides the two executions Monday, Arkansas put to death one other inmate last week and has a final one scheduled for Thursday. Four others have been blocked.
Before last week, Arkansas hadn't had an execution since 2005 or a double execution since 1999.
Jones was sent to death row for the 1995 rape and killing of Mary Phillips. He strangled her with the cord to a coffee pot.
He was also convicted of attempting to kill Phillips' 11-year-old daughter and was convicted in another rape and killing in Florida.
Jones said earlier this month that he was ready for execution. He used a wheelchair and he'd had a leg amputated in prison because of diabetes.
Williams' “morbid obesity makes it likely that either the IV line cannot be placed or that it will be placed in error, thus causing substantial damage (like a collapsed lung),” his attorneys wrote in an earlier court filing asking justices to block the execution.
Both men were served last meals on Monday afternoon, Arkansas Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves said. Jones had fried chicken, potato logs with tartar sauce, beef jerky bites, three candy bars, a chocolate milkshake and fruit punch. Williams had fried chicken, banana pudding, nachos, two sodas and potato logs with ketchup, Graves said.
In recent pleadings before state and federal courts, the inmates said the three drugs Arkansas uses to execute prisoners — midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride — could be ineffective because of their poor health.