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Arkansas Executes 4th Inmate In 8 Days

Arkansas has put to death convicted murderer Kenneth Williams. His was the last of a series of executions accelerated because the state's lethal-injection drugs were about to expire.

Williams was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m. Central time after the execution began at 10:52 p.m., Arkansas Public Media reports.

State officials initially scheduled eight condemned inmates to die over 11 days — the fastest pace of executions in decades. Some executions were blocked by the courts.

The state accelerated the schedule because its supply of midazolam expires at the end of April and has been hard to acquire for death penalty purposes.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson pressed for the fast pace of executions and said that they are a way to bring justice for the families of the victims. In a statement issued shortly after officials announced Williams' execution had been carried out, Hutchinson said:

"The long path of justice ended tonight and Arkansans can reflect on the last two weeks with confidence that our system of laws in this state has worked. Carrying out the penalty of the jury in the Kenneth Williams case was necessary. There has never been a question of guilt."

Family members of the victim thanked Gov. Hutchinson and the Arkansas Department of Correction for "flawlessly carrying out" the execution, member station KUAR Public Radio reports.

Williams "lurched and convulsed 20 times during the lethal injection," according to an Associated Press reporter who witnessed the execution. "A prison spokesman said he shook for approximately 10 seconds, about three minutes into the procedure," the AP reports.

The spokesman for Gov. Hutchinson, J.R. Davis, responded that Williams' reaction was a "known" involuntary reaction to one of the drugs used, KUAR reports.

Critics have characterized the packed schedule as reckless and error-prone. Hours before the execution, Williams' lawyers continued to try to stop it.

A filing Thursday morning at the Circuit Court of Pulaski County said Williams had medical conditions such as "sickle cell trait, Lupus and organic brain damage" that make complications more likely during an execution by lethal injection.

Ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court, in a two-sentence order issued late Thursday night, denied the application for a stay of execution, clearing the way for the execution to proceed.

Williams, 38, was "serving a life sentence for the 1998 murder of a college student when he escaped from prison and killed a local farmer, for which he was sentenced to death," KUAR's Chris Hickey tells our Newscast unit.

"All of his crimes were described as random with money as the motive," according to local broadcaster Fox 16. The station added that he was moved to the Cummins unit Wednesday in preparation for the execution.

On Monday night, Arkansas put to death two inmates — Marcel Williams and Jack Jones Jr. It was the first double execution in the U.S. in 17 years. As The Two-Way previously reported:

"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."

NPR's James Doubek contributed to this report.

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Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
Barbara Campbell