Arkansas executes first of 2 death row inmates scheduled to die

A lethal injection room at an unidentified prison. (File Photo)

Arkansas has executed Jack Harold Jones for the 1995 rape and murder of Mary Phillips, the first of two executions scheduled Monday night.

“The Phillips family has waited far too long to see justice carried out, and I pray they find peace tonight,” Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said after the execution.

The execution lasted about 14 minutes, said media witness and Searcy Daily Citizen reporter Tracy Whitaker. Jones appeared coherent as he delivered a two-minute statement focusing on Phillips’ daughter, Lacey, who was not present for the execution.

Jones beat Lacey Williams and left her for dead. “It’s a good thing that it’s done, for her,” Whitaker told CNN affiliate KARK.

Jones was the first of two inmates scheduled for execution Monday in the state’s first double execution since 1999. Marcel Williams, who was convicted in the 1994 rape and murder of Stacy Errickson, is scheduled to follow Jones.

The two were among eight inmates Gov. Asa Hutchinson scheduled for execution between April 17 and April 27, before the state’s supply of sedatives used in lethal injection expires at the end of the month.

“This evening the rule of law was upheld when the sentence of the jury for Jack Jones was carried out after 20 years of review. 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,” Hutchinson said.

“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.”

The crimes

Jones was convicted in 1996 of raping and murdering Phillips in the accounting office where she worked as a bookkeeper. She was strangled to death with a coffee pot cord while daughter Lacey was tied to a chair. Jones beat Lacey and left her for dead.

The daughter regained consciousness as police photographers took pictures of the crime scene.

Williams was found guilty of murdering Errickson in 1994. He forced her into her car at gunpoint and made her withdraw money at several ATMs in transactions caught on camera. Her body was found two weeks later.

The executions went forward after the US Supreme Court denied the inmates’ emergency petitions for stays Monday night.

For his last meal, Jones had fried chicken, potato logs, beef jerky bites, Butterfinger bars and a chocolate milkshake. Williams also had fried chicken and potato logs, along with banana pudding, nachos with chili cheese and jalapenos and Mountain Dew.

How they got to this point

The eight inmates joined in a last-minute lawsuit challenging the clemency process, arguing the state’s compressed schedule did not allow time for the state board to consider their cases. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals denied them relief, and only one received a clemency recommendation.

The inmates also sued over the sedative used in the three-drug protocol. Their attorneys argued that the drug midazolam does not effectively prevent a painful death. The lawsuit went to the US Supreme Court, which ultimately denied a motion for a stay.

The first execution was carried out Thursday. Three were scheduled for this week, including the two on Monday.

Four are on hold pending appeal.

Williams had argued that he will likely experience severe pain during the execution because of his medical conditions, and that the lethal injection amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. The decision came hours after the court denied Williams a stay based on ineffective counsel claims in his 1997 trial

The appeals court also declined inmate Jones’ request for a stay based on a claim that the state’s new lethal injection protocol will inflict cruel and unusual punishment.

Last double execution was 1999

On April 20, Arkansas executed Ledell Lee, who was convicted in 1995 of murdering a woman in her home two years earlier. Lee maintained up until his death that he was innocent. He became the first person put to death in Arkansas since 2005.

Lee’s execution followed a flurry of court rulings Thursday, capped by the US Supreme Court’s denial of multiple requests for stays of execution.

Amnesty International said it was a “shameful day,” and that the state was treating people “as though they have a sell-by date.”

Arkansas’ last double execution was on September 8, 1999, according to the Department of Corrections. Thirty-one states use the death penalty, with lethal injection being the primary method. US executions fell to a 25-year low last year.