Arkansas authorities will conduct an autopsy on the body of their most recently executed inmate after a federal judge has ordered them to do so. The court order is the result of a complaint from the lawyer of the inmate who described his execution as "horrifying"' which involved jerking and convulsions during his lethal injection.
Judge Kristine Baker of the US Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas issued the order late Friday, less than a day since Arkansas carried out the execution of convicted multiple murderer 38-year-old Kenneth Williams. Williams was the latest inmate to be executed among the four executions carried out by the conservative southern state in just a week.
The batch of executions also marked the first for Arkansas since 2005. The state raced to carry out the executions because its stock of a sedative used in lethal injection, midazolam, was set to expire at the end of April.
Judge Baker also ordered the preservation of blood and tissue samples from Williams's body. The emergency motion for "preservation of evidence" was filed by Jason McGehee, another death-row inmate who had also been scheduled for execution on Thursday.
McGehee won a reprieve, along with three other prisoners who make up the original eight inmates Arkansas scheduled for execution over an eleven-day period before the expiration of the concerned drug at the end of the month.
Shawn Nolan, Williams's lawyer, said that his client suffered during the execution. He said that within three minutes into execution, Williams began coughing, convulsing, jerking and lurching. Nolan together with the American Civil Liberties Union called for an investigation into Williams's execution to determine if he suffered a death through torture. Nolan rejected as simple "whitewash" a comment by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson's spokesman that the physical agitation was merely an "involuntary muscular reaction" caused by one of the drugs.
Many legal challenges over the string of executions focused on midazolam, which is meant to render inmates unconscious before the other drugs cause death. Critics argue that it does not always adequately sedate prisoners, potentially causing undue suffering which is against the principle of carrying out humane capital punishment.