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On the eve of what Arkansas officials hoped will be the state's first executions in more than a decade, they faced off with death-row inmates in multiple legal battles over whether these lethal injections would take place as scheduled.

At the heart of the fight is an unprecedented flurry of executions that have pushed Arkansas to the forefront of the American death penalty at a time when states are increasingly retreating from the practice. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) scheduled eight lethal injections to take place over an 11-day window, a pace unmatched in the modern era, which he defended as needed because one of the state's drugs is expiring this month and no replacement could be guaranteed amid an ongoing shortage.

Hours before the first execution was scheduled to begin, fights continued on several fronts in state and federal court, and Arkansas and death-row inmates both notched legal victories Monday -- one halting the executions, another removing a roadblock to carrying them out at a later time.

The Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday afternoon narrowly stayed the two executions scheduled to take place later that night, which came after a federal judge had previously issued an order over Easter weekend staying all the executions. Other court orders had also blocked individual executions and barred the state from using one of its lethal-injection drugs.

After the Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday afternoon stayed two scheduled executions without explanation, Leslie Rutledge (R), the state's attorney general, promised to quickly seek a review of what she described as a flawed decision.

Rutledge filed a motion with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to vacate one of the two stays. Judd Deere, a spokesman for Rutledge, said she decided not to appeal the other lethal injection, which the Arkansas Supreme Court had previously stayed last week, because the state rejected her appeal against that first stay and then handed down a second one.




Arkansas executed its fourth inmate in eight days Thursday night, wrapping up an accelerated schedule with a lethal injection that left the prisoner lurching and convulsing 20 times before he died.

Kenneth Williams, 38, was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m., 13 minutes after the execution began at the Cummins Unit prison at Varner.

Arkansas had scheduled eight executions over an 11-day period before one of its lethal injection drugs expires on Sunday. That would have been the most in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, but courts issued stays for four of the inmates.

The four lethal injections that were carried out included Monday's first double execution in the United States since 2000.

"I extend my sincerest of apologies to the families I have senselessly wronged and deprived of their loved ones," Williams said in a final statement he read from the death chamber. "... I was more than wrong. The crimes I perpetrated against you all was senseless, extremely hurtful and inexcusable."

Williams also spoke in tongues, the unintelligible but language-like speech used in some religions. But his prayer faded off as the sedative midazolam took effect. His final words were, "The words that I speak will forever be, will forever ..." before he fell silent.

The inmate breathed heavily through his nose until just after three minutes into his execution, when his chest leaped forward in a series of what seemed like involuntary movements. His right hand never clenched and his face remained what one media witness called "serene."

After the jerking, Williams breathed through his mouth and moaned or groaned once — during a consciousness check — until falling still seven minutes into the lethal injection.

Williams was sentenced to death for killing a former deputy warden, Cecil Boren, after he escaped from prison in 1999. At the time of his escape in a 500-gallon barrel of hog slop, Williams was less than three weeks into a life term for the death of a college cheerleader.




A unanimous Supreme Court is siding with Goodyear Rubber & Tire Co. in a dispute over $2.7 million the company and its lawyers were ordered to pay in a personal injury case.

The justices on Tuesday sent the case back to a lower court to decide whether an Arizona family injured in a 2003 motor home accident is entitled to the entire amount.

The family sued Goodyear after they were seriously injured when a tire failed on their motor home, causing it to flip off the road. After settling the case in 2010, the family discovered the company hadn't turned over key testing data.

A federal judge said nearly all of the family's attorney fees could be blamed on the misconduct. A federal appeals court agreed.



The Ohio Supreme Court wants to see unredacted autopsy reports from eight slayings in one family as justices consider media lawsuits seeking access to those full reports from the year-old, unsolved case.

The court on Wednesday ordered the Pike County coroner in southern Ohio to submit the reports within two weeks for justices to review outside of public view.

The case involves seven adults and a teenage boy from the Rhoden family who were found shot to death at four homes near Piketon last April.

The Columbus Dispatch and The Cincinnati Enquirer separately sued for access to the full autopsies.

Authorities want to shield information, arguing that its release could compromise the investigation. The coroner also says victims' relatives raised concerns about sharing details of how their loved ones died.




Arkansas' attempt to carry out its first execution in nearly 12 years wasn't thwarted by the type of liberal activist judge Republicans regularly bemoan here, but instead by a state Supreme Court that's been the focus of expensive campaigns by conservative groups to reshape the judiciary.

The court voted Wednesday to halt the execution of an inmate facing lethal injection Thursday night, two days after justices stayed the executions of two other inmates. The series of 4-3 decisions blocking the start of what had been an unprecedented plan to execute eight men in 11 days were only the latest in recent years preventing this deeply Republican state from resuming capital punishment.

The possibility that justices could continue sparing the lives of the remaining killers scheduled to die this month has left death penalty supporters including Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson frustrated and critical of the high court.

"I know the families of the victims are anxious for a clear-cut explanation from the majority as to how they came to this conclusion and how there appears to be no end to the court's review," Hutchinson said in a statement after the Wednesday ruling.

Since the last execution in 2005, the state Supreme Court has at least twice forced Arkansas to rewrite its death penalty law. One of those cases spared Don Davis, who again received a stay Monday night. The legal setbacks at one point prompted the state's previous attorney general, Dustin McDaniel, to declare Arkansas' death penalty system "broken."

But unlike the earlier decisions, this stay came from a court that had shifted to the right in recent elections. Outside groups and the candidates spent more than $1.6 million last year on a pair of high court races that were among the most fiercely fought judicial campaigns in the state's history. Arkansas was among a number of states where conservative groups spent millions on such efforts.





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