GRADY -- In the nation's first double execution since 2000, Arkansas delivered heart-stopping doses of lethal drugs Monday night to death-row inmates Jack Jones Jr., 52, and Marcel Williams, 46.
Jones was pronounced dead at 7:20 p.m., 14 minutes after the execution began, prison officials said.
The convicted murderer moved his lips for about two minutes after the first drug entered his body at 7:06 p.m., according to witness Andrew DeMillo of The Associated Press. It wasn't clear whether the inmate was trying to speak, because the chamber microphone was turned off after his final statement, DeMillo said.
Jones' consciousness was checked at 7:11 p.m., and his chest rose and fell until about 7:13 p.m., DeMillo said.
Officials don't administer the second and third drugs in the three-drug injection process until the inmate is determined to be unconscious.
In interviews afterward, DeMillo and two news media witnesses reported no obvious signs of suffering or pain.
But a federal court filing submitted shortly afterward described Jones' execution as "torturous," with the inmate "moving his lips and gulping for air" more than five minutes after the sedative drug, midazolam, was administered.
The filing by Williams' attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker to postpone Williams' execution.
In response, the state attorney general's office said the filing was "inaccurate" and that claims of Jones moving his lips and gasping were "unsupported by press accounts or the accounts of other witnesses."
Baker's postponement delayed Williams' execution for about two hours as she reviewed the case and held a hearing by telephone. After she declined to halt the execution, the curtains of the death chamber opened at 10:15 p.m, according to media witnesses. Two IVs appeared to be hooked up.
Prison staff started the first drug at 10:16 p.m. Williams closed his eyes. Witnesses saw deep breathing. By 10:19, his head rolled to the side. After a consciousness check at 10:21, an executioner moved toward another person and mouthed the words, "I'm not sure," according to witness and AP reporter Kelly Kissel.
At 10:24, Williams' breathing appeared to stop and he grimaced. He was pronounced dead at 10:33 p.m.
Arkansas has executed three inmates in five days at the Cummins prison unit at Grady, about 30 miles southeast of Pine Bluff. The first was convicted killer Ledell Lee, 51, on Thursday night.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson initially scheduled eight executions over 11 days, an unprecedented rate since the United States reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
His plan captured attention across the U.S. and in countries that ban the death penalty. Time.com on Monday described the effort as "Arkansas' controversial attempt to thin its death row in quick succession."
Court stays and Arkansas Board of Parole decisions, however, have postponed four of the eight scheduled executions. One more inmate and convicted murderer, Kenneth Williams, is set to die this month, on Thursday.
Late Monday, after hearing accounts from state Department of Correction witnesses, Hutchinson called the executions "flawless," according to spokesman J.R. Davis.
Monday in the execution chamber, Jones gave his final statement calmly, witnesses said, apologizing to the family of his victim.
A White County jury recommended death for Jones for the 1995 rape and murder of 34-year-old Mary Phillips in the Bald Knob accounting office where she worked.
Jones also beat Phillips' 11-year-old daughter Lacey so badly that police at first thought she was dead, too. Mary Phillips' husband and Lacey's father, James Phillips, was at the prison to witness the execution.
Jones had told the Parole Board he was ready to die for his crimes, rather than spend more years on death row.
"Well, I just want to let the James family and Lacey know how sorry I am," the inmate said Monday night. "I can't believe I did something to her. ... I hope over time you could learn who I really am, and I am not a monster. There was a reason why those things happened that day. I am so sorry, Lacey. Try to understand I love you like my child."
In a handwritten final statement Jones gave to his attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig, the inmate said he dedicated his life in prison to becoming a better person, referencing his practice of Buddhism and study of physics.
"I met the right people and did the right things," the statement said. "There are no words that would fully express my remorse for the pain that I caused."
Lacey Phillips Seal told reporters she didn't want to discuss Jones' last words.
"There's definitely a different mood in the air right now," she said. "More tension and a little less tension in different ways. ... I'm glad it's done. ... I'm glad that chapter is closed."
Rosenzweig said he witnessed Jones' mouth open during the execution about three to five times from 7:10 p.m. to 7:11 p.m. He equated it to a "fish with its mouth open and then chomping on bait."
"He did not appear to be talking," Rosenzweig said. "He did not appear to have anything else moving other than his mouth."
Jones did not appear to suffer, Rosenzweig said, though he cautioned that he's not trained for subtle movements that would indicate Jones experienced pain.
Jones and Williams both sought to halt their executions on grounds that their poor health put them at greater risk for botched executions under Arkansas' three-drug injection method.
Jones appealed to the nation's highest court that a prior case determining whether to re-sentence him was flawed.
The inmate's lawyer has argued that Jones' bipolar mental illness wasn't properly presented during trial. The inmate was also physically and sexually abused as a child, family members said.
Jones received a last meal between 3 and 4 p.m. Monday of three pieces of fried chicken, potato logs with tartar sauce, jerky bites, three Butterfinger candy bars, a chocolate milkshake with Butterfinger pieces, and fruit punch, Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves said.
Shortly after 6 p.m., the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Jones' last two appeals.
Williams was convicted in the 1994 rape and murder of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson of Jacksonville. He and Jones each had spent more than 20 years on death row.
Williams had ordered a last meal Monday afternoon of three pieces of fried chicken, potato logs with ketchup, banana pudding, two Mountain Dews and nachos with chili, cheese and jalapeno peppers.
At 7:45 p.m, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected what appeared to be his last two pending court appeals, and Department of Correction officials took steps to start his execution.
But Williams' attorneys were filing documents with the U.S. District Court in Little Rock headlined in red type: "Unconstitutional execution imminent." The lawyers asked for an immediate stay of execution based on problems they saw with Jones' lethal injection.
Williams was on the gurney in the execution chamber Monday night when Baker issued a stay, witnesses said. He was allowed to go to his holding cell and use the restroom. He remained there until the stay was lifted.
A clemency petition to the Parole Board said Williams was physically and sexually abused as a child, with his mother facilitating sexual encounters between him and older women in exchange for money.
"On at least one occasion, Marcel's mother put a pot of water on to boil, heated up extension cords in the water, and then beat him, naked, with the cords until he was covered gashes," the petition says. "His cousins watched in horror as he fled the house, still naked and bleeding."
Baker rejected Williams' filing of an unconstitutional execution shortly before 9:30 p.m.
When prison officials asked for last words, Williams shook his head and made no other response.
The family of his victim, Errickson, declined to comment.
Less than 30 minutes after Williams was pronounced dead, at 10:51 p.m. Monday, a pair of black hearses left the prison, witnesses said.
'EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER'
Family of Jones and his victim were among the nearly two dozen protesters outside the Cummins prison gates Monday. Among them were Jones' sister Lynn Scott and children of James Phillips.
Zia Authier, a stepdaughter of James Phillips, said she and others came to support the Phillips family.
Jones' execution is "what was set for the trial, and this is what the Phillips family expects. So I'm hoping that for my family's sake, once this is all over and done with, they'll be at peace," she said before the execution was carried out.
Phillips' son-in-law Robby Jones, no relation to the inmate, said after Jones was dead: "It's been an emotional roller coaster. We're ready as a family to move on."
Anti-death penalty protesters were joined by Episcopalian priests who later prayed with Jack Jones' daughter, Gina Grimm.
At 7 p.m., when protesters rang the death toll, Grimm held Randy Gardner, a Utah resident whose brother was the last to die in the United States by firing squad.
Scott sat in the passenger seat of a car, praying and looking at the last pictures she took with her brother, just days before.
"I was letting him know that I would be right here until the end," she said. "It was a piece of him, and it was my way ... of saying goodbye."
Scott flew in from Raleigh, N.C., on Thursday and saw him for the last time Sunday. Her brother was still in good spirits and was truly at peace, she said.
She said she asked Jones to keep a promise before she left him Sunday.
"I wanted him to promise me that when he was on that table that he did not focus on those people behind the glass viewing him as a monster and anticipating what they were hoping and praying for on their end," she said, "that [instead] he would be thinking of me, that I'm right here and that I'm loving him till the end."
About 50 people protested the execution outside the governor's mansion Monday evening, holding flickering white candles and praying before the execution of Jones.
The announcement of his execution led many of them to tears. But Cackie Upchurch, a theologian for the Catholic Diocese of Little Rock, said she didn't believe her efforts are for naught.
"I think the fact that the entire nation is watching us and wondering what kind of barbaric things we're doing down here tells us that there is a swell against the death penalty across the country -- not in Arkansas and not in several states across the South," Upchurch said. "I am a proud Arkansan. I love my state and I love the South. But we're wrong on this."
The plan for eight executions over 11 days was unprecedented in Arkansas since at least September 1913, according to Department of Correction records.
The compressed schedule was necessary, prison officials said, not only because the state's supply of a sedative required for the three-drug lethal injection protocol, midazolam, was set to expire, but because most drug manufacturers refuse to sell their products for executions. Shortages of midazolam and the other two drugs have slowed executions nationwide.
Despite the hurried pace Hutchinson set, death-row inmates Don Davis and Bruce Ward received temporary stays April 17 on the basis that a pending U.S. Supreme Court case might apply to their convictions.
Another inmate awaiting death, Stacey Johnson, who has claimed innocence, was spared Thursday so lower courts could decide whether to order new DNA testing on evidence in his case.
A federal judge also granted a break to Jason McGehee, originally scheduled for execution this Thursday, on grounds that Arkansas could not kill him on that date without running afoul of the proper clemency process. The state Parole Board recommended Hutchinson grant McGehee a more lenient sentence despite recommending death for the other seven inmates.
After Monday's executions, 30 inmates, all men, remain on Arkansas' death row.
Information for this article was contributed by Hunter Field, Aziza Musa and Michael R. Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Brandon Riddle and Jillian Kremer of Arkansas Online.
A Section on 04/25/2017
Mary Phillips’ husband, James Phillips (from left), son Jesse James Phillips and daughter Lacey Phillips Seal prepare to speak Monday after the execution of Jack Jones, who raped and killed Mary Phillips in a Bald Knob accounting office in 1995.