Jack Jones and Marcel Williams were both sentenced to death for rapes and murders committed in the 1990s.
Arkansas controversially scheduled eight sudden executions when it found out its supply of a drug used in lethal injections expires in late April.
It is the first double execution on the same day in the US for 17 years.
The state's decision to plan eight executions in just 11 days was prompted by the realisation that its stockpile of midazolam - one of three drugs used together in lethal injections - would expire at the end of the month.
Human rights groups, defence lawyers, and drug companies all objected to the decision.
But on Thursday, Ledell Lee became the first person to be executed in Arkansas since 2005, after the US Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the scheduling of the executions and the Arkansas Supreme Court overturned a ruling blocking the use of a different drug.
Both Jack Jones and Marcel Williams had filed their own legal challenges before their executions on Monday night.
Attorneys for Jones had argued he could suffer from a "torturous death" because he may be resistant to midazolam.
Lawyers for Williams had said it might be difficult to find a vein on their client for the lethal injection because of his 400lb (180kg) weight.
Williams was sentenced to death in 1997 for kidnapping, raping and murdering Stacy Errickson. He also abducted and raped two other women.
His execution was put on hold minutes before he was scheduled to die, as his lawyers raised concerns that Jones' execution had been "inhumane".
Williams' lawyers said that Jones was still moving more than five minutes after he received the injection that was supposed to make him unconscious.
But other witnesses quoted by local media disputed their version of events, arguing that Jones had showed no signs of distress.
Jones was convicted in 1996 of raping and strangling Mary Phillips and attempting to murder her 11-year-old daughter.
In his final utterance, he apologised to the girl he nearly killed, who is now an adult.
"I hope over time you could learn who I really am and I am not a monster," witnesses quoted him as saying.
But a district judge allowed the execution to go ahead after a brief hearing.
The two men were among eight that the state wanted to execute over the course of 11 days in April before its supplies of midazolam expired.
Four of the scheduled executions have been delayed by the courts. Another is scheduled for Thursday 27 April.
Like many US states, Arkansas has struggled to find the drugs it needs to carry out executions.
One of the legal challenges to the series of executions was lodged by McKesson Corporation, which makes the drug vecuronium bromide - part of the three-drug lethal injection cocktail.
The company claimed that the state had intentionally misled them, saying the drug would be used in health clinics for medical purposes. When McKesson found out it would be used in executions, it said it issued a refund and demanded the chemical be returned - which it never was. The state made no comment on the claims.
"We believe we have done all we can do at this time to recover our product," the company said in a statement after the state Supreme Court overturned a brief injunction.
Human rights groups have been heavily critical of the accelerated pace of executions.
Amnesty International said Arkansas' decision was a "shameful backslide against prevailing trends away from the death penalty".
Ahead of Monday's executions, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union had called for them, and the execution scheduled for Thursday, to be cancelled.
"Carrying out these three executions on this schedule will violate the individualized consideration that the constitution and justice require and further overstep the bounds of basic human dignity," Cassandra Stubbs wrote.
But earlier in April, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said he was fulfilling his responsibilities.
"I have a responsibility to the voters, I have a responsibility to my oath of office, but I also have responsibility to a higher power, God and eternity, and I understand that," he said.
"I feel comfortable in my understanding of my responsibilities both in terms of faith and scripture and in terms of as governor."
|Jack Jones (L) and Marcel Williams have both been on death row since the mid-1990s. AFP|
Arkansas Executes Two Inmates, The First Double Execution In U.S. Since 2000
Arkansas executed two inmates on Monday night, the first double execution in the U.S. since 2000.
The second inmate put to death was Marcel Williams. He and the prisoner executed just before him, Jack Jones Jr. — both convicted murderers — had filed last-minute appeals that were rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In addition, Williams' execution was delayed by a federal district judge. The inmate's attorneys had argued that Jones had shown signs of suffering after the lethal drugs were injected. The state maintained the claims were baseless and after consideration, the judge lifted the stay.
The executions follow a flurry of legal challenges, court rulings and reversals that have interfered with the state's unprecedented plan to execute eight men by lethal injection in 11 days.
Of the four executions scheduled prior to Monday, three were ultimately stayed. One man, Ledell Lee, was killed last week, just four minutes before his death warrant was set to expire; it was the first execution Arkansas carried out in 12 years.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said after Jones was executed that the law was upheld.
"The victim's family has waited patiently for justice during that time. The jury sentenced Jack Jones to death, and his sentence was upheld by judges and reviewed thoroughly in courts of appeal at each level.
"A governor never asks for this responsibility, but I accept it as part of the solemn pledge I made to uphold the law. Jack Jones expressed his willingness to proceed today, and we hope this will help bring closure to the Phillips family."
Another inmate, Kenneth Williams, is set to be executed this Thursday. Inmate Jason McGehee also had been scheduled to die that day, but a parole board has recommended his life be spared and a judge ruled that the state had to allow a 30-day period for public comment before making a final decision.
That pushes McGehee's execution past the end of the month — which means, for now, it is effectively stayed. The state's supply of one of the drugs used in its lethal injection protocol, midazolam, expires at the end of April, which is why officials set such a rapid schedule of executions.
The executions were briefly blocked by decisions in both state court and federal court. But then on Monday, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected concerns over the method and pace of the executions, and the Arkansas Supreme Court overturned objections to how the state acquired one its drugs.
Lawyers for both Jones and Williams sought stays, including through appeals based on the inmates' poor health. The lawyers say the inmates' current medical issues — and drugs used to treat them — might interfere with the lethal injection protocol and cause them to feel extreme pain.
Jacob Rosenberg, a reporter for the Arkansas Times, told NPR on Sunday that the men also have claims of intellectual disability.
"Marcel Williams has a very compelling case that's been discussed where he had a pretty horrific childhood growing up of sexual abuse, and that wasn't brought up at trial," Rosenberg said. "The reason that matters is because with the imposition of the death penalty, there's something called mitigating circumstances. And so those need to be brought up at trial because those mitigating circumstances, like mental health, could stop the death penalty's imposition."
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said it's his duty to carry out the men's sentences and that the executions will bring closure to victims' families.
Arkansas goes ahead with double execution
THE first double execution to be carried out in the US in 16 years has been completed, but not without complication.
The execution of a second Arkansas man killed by lethal injection Monday was interrupted after lawyers claimed the first was still moving more than five minutes after he was issued a sedative.
Rapist and murderer Jack Jones was given the injection and pronounced dead at 7.20pm Monday (10.20am Tuesday AEST), but lawyers for fellow inmate Marcel Williams claimed the death row killing was botched.
Following Jones’s execution, lawyers for Williams claimed officials spent 45 minutes trying to place an IV line in Jones’s neck before placing it elsewhere. In a last-minute appeal, they said Jones was still conscious, moving his lips and “gulping for air” after being administered with the sedative midazolam that is supposed to render inmates unconscious, according to local media reports.
The state’s attorney general’s office disputed Williams’s legal team’s account, and US District Judge Kristine Baker decided the punishment would go ahead.
Williams, who was also on death row for murder and rape, was pronounced dead at 10.33pm, 17 minutes after the procedure began.
According to earlier reports, the last words of Jack Jones, the rapist and murderer pronounced dead at 7.20pm Monday (10.20am Tuesday AEST), were: “I’m sorry.”
“I hope over time you can learn who I really am and I am not a monster,” he said in the roughly two-minute statement.
In a handwritten statement written just before his death, Jones said he was filled with remorse.
“I want people to know that when I came to prison I made up my mind that I would be a better person when I left than when I came in,” he wrote.
“I had no doubt in my mind that I would make every effort to do this. I’d like to think that I’ve accomplished this.”
Jones said he made “every effort” to be a good person, practising Buddhism and studying physics.
“There are no words that would fully express my remorse for the pain that I caused,” he wrote.
Jones was one of eight death row inmates the state wanted to execute before the end of April while its stock of midazolam, one of the drugs used, was still in date.
But amid public opposition to the death penalty lawyers obtained stays on four of those executions.
The first of the rushed executions took place last week with the death of Ledell Lee, sentenced to death after being convicted of killing Debra Reese with a tire iron in February 1993 in Jacksonville.
Jones’ and Williams’ deaths on Monday followed and a fourth is scheduled before the end of the month.
The men were given last meals on Monday, 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.
Lawyers for both men had argued their poor health would make it difficult for them to respond during a consciousness check following the megadose of midazolam, and the state shouldn’t risk giving them the drugs.
The US Supreme Court allowed the executions to go ahead, rejecting each of their lawyers’ claims their poor health could cause excruciating pain during the lethal injection.
Jones was given the death penalty for the 1995 rape and killing of Mary Phillips. He strangled her with the cord to a coffee pot.
In a letter earlier this month, he said he was ready to be killed by the state.
“I forgive my executioners; somebody has to do it,” wrote Jones, who had a leg amputated in prison because of diabetes and uses a wheelchair.
The letter, which his lawyer read aloud at his clemency hearing, went on to say: “I shall not ask to be forgiven, for I haven’t the right.”
Williams was sent to death row for the 1994 rape and killing of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson, whom he kidnapped from a gas station in central Arkansas.
Authorities said Williams abducted and raped two other women in the days before he was arrested in Errickson’s death. Williams admitted responsibility to the state Parole Board last month.
“I wish I could take it back, but I can’t,” Williams told the board.
Before Lee’s execution last Thursday, Arkansas hadn’t put an inmate to death since 2005.
The initial eight executions that Jones and Williams’s would have been part of would have been the most by a state in such a short period since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
The state said the executions needed to be carried out before its supply of the sedative midazolam expires on April 30.
The last state to put more than one inmate to death on the same day was Texas, which executed two killers in August 2000. Oklahoma planned a double execution in 2014 but scrapped plans for the second one after the execution of Clayton Lockett went awry.
Arkansas executed four men in an eight-day period in 1960. The only quicker pace included quadruple executions in 1926 and 1930.
In several of the 31 states where executions are legal, drug shortages have often forced delays as manufacturers prohibit their use in executions.
Arkansas believes that secrecy it grants to suppliers can solve that problem, though it still has difficulty obtaining the drugs, and court-ordered rewrites of the state’s lethal injection protocols have also caused delays.
One more execution is scheduled to be carried out before the month’s end.