GRADY — On Monday night Arkansas carried out the nation’s first double execution in 17 years.
The state put to death Jack Harold Jones, 52, and Marcel Wayne Williams, 46, using a three-drug lethal injection.
Jones was executed for the 1995 killing of Mary Phillips, 34, of Bald Knob. Phillips and her daughter, Lacey, then 11 years old, were at a Bald Knob accounting office when Jones entered the office, beat the two of them, then robbed and raped Phillips and strangled her with a coffee pot cord.
Williams was executed for the 1994 slaying of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson of Jacksonville, whom he abducted from a gas station and forced to drive to several ATMs and withdraw a total of $350 before strangling her and burying her in a shallow grave.
The last double execution in the U.S. was carried out in Texas in 2000.
Three representatives of the news media were allowed into the viewing chamber at the Department of Correction’s Cummins Unit near Grady for Jones’ execution: Andrew DeMillo of The Associated Press, Tracy Whitaker of The Searcy Daily Citizen and David Lippman of Little Rock television station THV11.
The media witnesses said Jones gave a final statement for about two minutes. At 7:06 p.m. the injection procedure began, and during the procedure Jones’ chest rose intermittently until about 7:13, when he stopped moving, according to the witnesses. A coroner declared Jones dead at 7:20 p.m.
Shortly after Jones’ execution, lawyers for Marcel Wayne Williams, 46, who also was scheduled to die Monday night, asked a federal judge to stay Williams’ execution, claiming that irregularities occurred during Jones’ execution.
The lawyers claimed that officials attempted more than once to place a central line in Jones, that Jones was seen gulping for air and that the procedure appeared to be torturous for him.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a response that there was one unsuccessful attempt to place a central line in Jones’ neck, after which the IV team placed two IV lines at Jones’ request. She said there was no sign that Jones gulped for air or experienced pain.
DeMillo said Jones’ lips moved for about two minutes after the procedure started. He said he could not tell whether Jones was gulping for air or talking because the microphone into which Jones had given his final statement had been turned off.
After Williams had been placed on the execution gurney, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a temporary stay of his execution. She later lifted the stay and denied Williams’ motion for a stay of execution.
Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves told reporters Jones gave a final statement in which he told the family of Mary Phillips he was sorry for his crime.
Graves said Jones said in part, “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’m so sorry, Lacey. Try to understand I love you like my child.”
Lacey Phillips Seal, daughter of Mary Phillips, told reporters at the prison she was grateful to Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Rutledge for seeing that Jones’ death sentence was carried out.
“They took care of what was ruled on in ’96 and gave our family some justice,” she said.
Asked what she thought of Jones’ last words, Seal said, “I don’t want to talk about that.”
Jesse James Phillips, Lacey Phillips’s brother, said of his mother, “Nothing done today will bring her back, and that’s OK. We honored her memory here today by seeing justice done.”
Hutchinson said in a statement Monday night he hoped Jones’ execution would bring closure to the Phillips family.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Rutledge said in a statement, “The Phillips family has waited far too long to see justice carried out, and I pray they find peace tonight.”
Graves said the execution process for Williams began at 10:16 p.m. and that Williams was pronounced dead at 10:33 p.m. He said Williams declined to give a final statement.
At 5:30 p.m., Graves said both Jones and Williams had received their last meals.
Graves said the meal Jones requested consisted of three pieces of fried chicken, potato logs with tartar sauce, beef jerky bites, three Butterfinger candy bars, a chocolate milkshake with Butterfinger pieces, and fruit punch.
Graves said Williams’ last meal consisted of three pieces of fried chicken, potato logs with ketchup, nachos topped with chili cheese and jalapeno peppers, banana pudding and two Mountain Dews.
The state sought to kill four inmates last week, but court stays blocked all but one execution, that of Ledell Lee on Thursday. Lee, who was convicted of the 1993 killing of 26-year-old Debra Reese of Jacksonville, was the first Arkansas inmate put to death since 2005.
On Thursday, the state will seek to execute Kenneth Williams. Another inmate, Jason McGehee, was scheduled to be executed on the same night as Kenneth Williams, but a federal judge stayed the execution after the state Parole Board recommended that Gov. Asa Hutchinson commute his sentence to life without parole.
As of Monday afternoon, the state had not appealed that stay and the governor had not said whether he would follow the board’s recommendation.
Arkansas is seeking to carry out as many executions as it can before its supply of one of its execution drugs expires at the end of the month.
Lawyers for Jones and Marcel Williams filed a flurry of last-minute lawsuits, motions and appeals seeking to block the men’s executions. The lawyers argued that the men have health conditions, including diabetes and hypertension, that make them especially likely to feel pain during the lethal-injection process. They also have sought stays based on claims of ineffective trial lawyers and errors in their trials.
Lawyers for Marcel Williams also claimed that his trial lawyer, Herbert Wright, now a circuit judge, plagiarized part of his argument.
On Sunday night, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker denied a motion by the inmates’ attorneys to modify the viewing rules for executions so that they could view the placement of intravenous lines in the inmate, which they were not allowed to view when Lee was executed.
Baker said the rules had been agreed to by both parties and no change had occurred to merit revisiting them.
Dale Ellis contributed to this report.