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US state of Arkansas carries out double execution


A recruiting sign for the Arkansas Department of Correction greets visitors to the Cummins Unit prison (AP Photo/Kelly P. Kissel)

A recruiting sign for the Arkansas Department of Correction greets visitors to the Cummins Unit prison (AP Photo/Kelly P. Kissel)

A recruiting sign for the Arkansas Department of Correction greets visitors to the Cummins Unit prison (AP Photo/Kelly P. Kissel)

After going nearly 12 years without executing an inmate, the US state of Arkansas has executed three in a few days - including two in one night.

Jack Jones and Marcel Williams received lethal injections on Monday night, roughly three hours apart. It is the first double execution to be carried out in the United States since 2000.

While Jones, 52, was executed on schedule, attorneys for Williams, 46, convinced a federal judge minutes later to briefly delay his execution over concerns about how the earlier one was carried out.

They claimed Jones "was moving his lips and gulping for air", an account the state's attorney general denied, but the judge lifted her stay about an hour later and Williams was pronounced dead at 10.33pm.

In the emergency filing, Williams' attorneys wrote that officials spent 45 minutes trying to place an IV line in Jones' neck before placing it elsewhere. It argued that Williams, who weighed 400lbs (28 stone eight ounces), could have faced a "torturous" death because of his weight.

Intravenous lines are placed before witnesses are allowed access to the death chamber.

A reporter who witnessed the execution said Jones moved his lips briefly after the drug midazolam was administered, and officials put a tongue depressor in his mouth intermittently for the first few minutes.

His chest stopped moving two minutes after they checked for consciousness, and he was pronounced dead at 7.20pm.

Asked why Jones' lips moved, Arkansas Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves said he understood that the inmate was apologising to the department director, Wendy Kelley, and thanking her for the way she treated him.

Williams was already in the death chamber when the temporary stay was issued. He was escorted out of the chamber and used the restroom, then was brought back in after the stay was lifted.

Initially, Governor Asa Hutchinson scheduled four double executions over an 11-day period in April. The eight executions would have been the most by a state in such a compressed 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 one lethal injection drug expires on April 30.

Besides the two executions on Monday, Arkansas put to death one other inmate last week and has a final one scheduled for Thursday. Four other executions have been blocked.

Before last week, Arkansas had not carried out an execution since 2005 or a double execution since 1999.

Jones, who had argued that his health conditions could lead to a painful death, gave a lengthy last statement. His final words were: "I'm sorry."

In the two-minute statement, he also said: "I hope over time you can learn who I really am and I am not a monster."

Williams declined to make a final statement.

Jones was sent to death row for the 1995 rape and killing of Mary Phillips. He strangled her with the cord to a coffee pot. He was also convicted of attempting to kill Phillips' 11-year-old daughter and was convicted of another rape and killing in Florida.

Williams was sent to death row for the 1994 rape and killing of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson, whom he kidnapped from a petrol station in central Arkansas.

Authorities said Williams abducted and raped two other women in the days before he was arrested over 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.

In a letter earlier this month, Jones said he was ready to be killed by the state. The letter, which his attorney read aloud at his clemency hearing, went on to say: "I shall not ask to be forgiven, for I haven't the right."

Including Jones and Williams, nine people have been executed in the United States this year, four in Texas, three in Arkansas and one each in Missouri and Virginia.

Last year, 20 people were executed, down from 98 in 1999 and the lowest number since 14 in 1991, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre.