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December 18, 2017
Catholics speak out against execution of two more Arkansas inmates
Credit: CDC/Debora Cartagena.
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.- As Arkansas prepares to conduct the first double execution in the U.S. since 2000, Catholics prayed for all involved in the execution and the victims of the capital crimes.

“All of the actions around these executions in Arkansas display the flaws of the death penalty,” said Catholic Mobilizing Network in a statement to CNA April 24.  

“Both Jack Jones and Marcel Williams are in poor health, raising the risk of complications likely to occur with the lethal injection protocol. Kenneth Williams, set to be executed on Thursday, has an outstanding intellectual disability case as well,” the organization said.

Voicing prayers for both the victims and those involved in the scheduled executions, the group noted that both “Jones and Williams have taken responsibility for their crimes,” and said that this action “should be met with mercy.”

“This forces you to ask the question, why so much energy, expense and focus on vengeance? This is an opportunity to stand for the dignity of all life,” the group said.

Arkansas is set to execute two men – Jack Jones and Marcel Williams – on Monday evening, after a federal district judge on Friday denied their request to have their executions stopped and the state Supreme Court on Monday afternoon denied them a stay of execution.

Jones and Williams, scheduled to be executed on Monday evening, claimed that the state’s use of the sedative Midazolam could fail to achieve the intended effect of rendering them unconscious before the next two drugs, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride, were administered. If this happened, the inmates said they could experience excruciating pain during their death.

The state had originally planned to execute eight inmates in 10 days before their supply of the drug Midazolam – used in their three-step lethal injection protocol – expired, but several of the executions have been stayed.

Inmates challenged the state’s use of Midazolam, claiming that there was a significant risk that the drug would not work as intended, but the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed their claim.

Meanwhile, a Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffin had halted the state’s use of vecuronium bromide in executions, after the medical supplier of vecuronium claimed that the state bought the drug from them and was deceptive about its planned use. The manufacturer of vecuronium had opposed its use in executions.

The state Supreme Court vacated Griffin’s ruling, however, and commissioned an investigation into whether he had violated the code of conduct for judges after he had participated in a rally against the planned executions on the same day he issued his decision. Griffin was also barred from hearing future death penalty cases.

One of the inmates, Ledell Lee, was executed on Thursday, April 20 after the Supreme Court refused to grant a stay of execution.

Of the two set to be executed on Monday evening, Jones was convicted for the 1995 murder of Mary Phillips and the attempted killing of her daughter, while Williams was convicted for the 1994 killing of Stacey Errickson.

A report by the Fair Punishment Project claimed that Jones was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, had been physically abused by his father as a child, had been sexually abused by strangers, and had twice attempted suicide before the 1995 killing. Marcel Williams, the report claimed, had been physically and sexually abused as a child, and had been pimped out by his mother to strangers for lodging and food stamps.

Kenneth Williams is also scheduled to be executed by Arkansas on Thursday. He has asked the state Supreme Court to halt his execution based on his claim of intellectual disability. He reportedly has an IQ score of 70, “squarely within the intellectual disability range,” according to the Fair Punishment Project.

Other inmates have had their executions halted. After the state’s parole board recommended clemency for Jason McGehee, convicted in the 1996 killing of John Melbourne, Jr., his execution was suspended by a federal district court because of a 30-day period for public comment before the board officially made its recommendation to the governor. McGehee’s scheduled execution fell within that 30-day period.

Two other inmates, Bruce Ward and Don Davis, saw their executions halted by the state Supreme Court as the U.S. Supreme Court considers another case, McWilliams v. Dunn, involving a prisoner’s request for a mental competency evaluation by an expert not selected by the state. The Court held oral arguments in the case on Monday.

Stacey Johnson was granted a stay of execution by the state Supreme Court for a hearing on DNA evidence in his case.

Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock has already spoken out against the scheduled executions. He wrote Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) on March 1 to ask for the eight death sentences to be commuted to life without parole.

“Though guilty of heinous crimes, these men nevertheless retain the God-given dignity of any human life, which must be respected and defended from conception to natural death,” Bishop Taylor wrote. “Since the penal system of our state is well equipped to keep them incarcerated for the rest of their life (and thus protect society), we should limit ourselves to non-lethal means.”

Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice committee, also called for the sentences to be commuted to life imprisonment.

“Indeed, serious criminal activity must be met with appropriate punishment,” he wrote. He cited Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae which said that death sentences should not be served for punishment “except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society.”

The U.S. has “maximum security prisons” which “can neutralize an incarcerated person’s threat to the general public,” he added.

The planned executions follow a commutation of a Virginia inmate’s death sentence to life without parole by Governor Terry McAuliffe (D), who said that false information had been presented against Ivan Teleguz, 38, during the sentencing for a 2001 murder. The state’s bishops had praised the commutation “because we have a profound respect for the sanctity of every human life, from its very beginning until natural death.”