Skip to main content

Lawyers: Ark. execution method ‘dangerous’

Resource type: News

The Associated Press State & Local Wire |

Original Source by JON GAMBRELL LITTLE ROCK (AP) – Past “botched” executions show Arkansas’ lethal injection method remains “dangerous and inadequate,” even after the U.S. Supreme Court found a similar method constitutional, lawyers for four death-row inmates claim. In a filing to U.S. District Court, federal public defender Julie Brain cites several executions when witnesses either heard condemned inmates groan or medical teams failed to properly start an intravenous line as proof of the method’s danger. Because of these concerns, the filing urges a judge to allow the lawsuit by Don William Davis, Jack Harold Jones Jr., Terrick Nooner and Frank Williams Jr. to continue. The state’s execution method “is so dangerous and inadequate that, even when followed as directed, it has resulted and will continue to result in the infliction of excruciating, and entirely unnecessary, pain and torture,” Brain wrote in her filing Wednesday. Only Williams, 41, has an execution date. If executed Sept. 9, Williams would be the first inmate put to death in Arkansas since 2005 and a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year upholding Kentucky’s lethal injection procedures. In the filing, Brain cites the January 1992 execution of Rickey Ray Rector, 40, as an example of what could go wrong. Rector, who shot part of his own brain away after killing a Conway policeman, could be heard groaning off and on for almost 20 minutes before workers pulled back the curtain shielding the execution chamber. An autopsy conducted on Rector later found 10 puncture marks where the execution team tried inserting IV lines. The report also shows executioners “cut-down” part of the skin from his right arm to find a vein for the line. “There is no excuse for what (the) defendants did to Mr. Rector,” Brain wrote. “The deep gash that was cut into his arm is a medically unacceptable means of obtaining IV access under all circumstances.” Brain claims execution teams in at least three other executions failed to ensure the condemned didn’t suffer. R. Gene Simmons, who killed 16 people in a 1987 spree, called out and coughed during his June 1990 execution before dying. Steven Douglas Hill, 25, arched his back against the straps holding him to the gurney during his May 1992 execution. During the May 2000 execution of Christina Marie Riggs, 28, prison officials also had trouble finding a vein. The state’s execution protocol, recently updated after the Supreme Court decision, requires those on the execution team be either a nurse, an emergency medical technician with advanced training, a physician assistant or a doctor and have at least two years of medical experience. However, the protocol does not prohibit executioners from using the “cut-down” method or establishing an IV line directly into an inmate’s heart. Dina Tyler, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Correction, could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday. Judge Susan Webber Wright will consider the inmates’ request. Currently, court stays over the suit prevent Davis, Jones and Nooner from being executed. Williams also has another legal challenge to the state’s execution protocol pending in Pulaski County Circuit Court and a clemency request hearing scheduled for Aug. 4. Williams was sentenced to death for the 1992 murder of Bradley farmer Clyde Spence. ©2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Related Resources


Death Penalty, Human Rights & Reconciliation

Global Impact:

United States