Coughing, convulsing and calls for probe
after Arkansas execution
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[April 29, 2017]
By Jon Herskovitz
(Reuters) - A lawyer for an executed
Arkansas death row inmate asked the state on Friday to investigate why
his client coughed and convulsed on a death chamber gurney, saying a
lethal injection drug may have been the cause.
A separate group of lawyers for Arkansas death row inmates asked a
federal court to preserve evidence in the four executions Arkansas held
over eight days this month, saying in a lawsuit that the state's
protocols "did not prevent an execution by torture."
Arkansas, which had not held an execution in 12 years, concluded its
executions series by putting to death Kenneth Williams on Thursday
night. Accounts of his execution raised fresh concerns about whether the
sedative midazolam, a Valium-like drug, is effective in lethal injection
Witnesses said Williams, who admitted to killing four people, jerked and
gasped for air for about 30 seconds a few minutes after his execution
began. The state said it was a routine execution lasting about 15
minutes, but critics said something was amiss.
"It is not a normal reaction to therapeutic doses of midazolam," said
Jonathan Groner, a professor of surgery at the Ohio State University
College of Medicine who has testified against the drug's use in
"Was the drug doing what the state intended it to do or was the person
being chemically waterboarded on the way to being killed?" he asked in
an interview when talking about execution mixes.
Shawn Nolan, a lawyer for Williams, on Friday asked Arkansas to
investigate his execution.
The lawsuit filed in a U.S. district court in Little Rock 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."
Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson, who set the hurried execution
schedule because the state's supply of midazolam expires at the end of
April, told reporters there was no need for an investigation and all the
executions were carried out within Arkansas' protocols.
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Inmate Kenneth Williams is shown in this booking photo provided
March 21, 2017. Courtesy Arkansas Department of Corrections/Handout
via REUTERS/File Photo
The United Nations' human rights office voiced deep concern on
Friday, saying the state's rush to carry out the executions before a
drug expired added to the "arbitrariness and cruelty" of the
Midazolam is supposed to render inmates unconscious but critics say
it has failed in some cases, leaving them to feel the effects of a
paralytic that halts breathing and another drug that stops the heart
while causing an excruciating burning sensation.
Major pharmaceutical companies began a sales ban on lethal
injections drugs about six years ago to death penalty prison systems
due to ethical concerns.
Several states then turned to new mixes that included midazolam. The
drug was used in troubled executions in Oklahoma and Arizona where
witnesses said inmates twisted in pain on death chamber gurneys.
Death penalty supporters have said some pain in executions is
warranted given the brutality of the murders the condemned typically
commit and the harm they have inflicted on victim's families.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Steve Barnes
in Grady, Arkansas and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by
Colleen Jenkins and Tom Brown)
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