The death penalty continues to make headlines in the United States. Tonight (4/27/17) Arkansas seeks to execute Kenneth Williams, a man convicted of multiple murders. A few facts worth knowing about the Williams case:
- In two IQ tests taken as a child, Williams scored a 69 and 77, a score which indicates strong mental impairment. (http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/14/health/arkansas-executions-mental-competence-eprise/)
- Williams has spent half of his life in prison; his introduction to gang life happened at nine years old. (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/04/17/gangster-by-9-murderer-by-19-minister-by-26-executed-by-39.html)
- He grew up with an abusive father and drug addicted mother.
- At 11 years old, Williams experienced molestation at the hands of another boy.
- Williams grew up in six foster homes and often went hungry.
- He has shown signs of brain damage
- The family of Michael Greenwood, one of Williams’s victims, has asked for his life to be spared. (http://www.arkansasmatters.com/news/local-news/victims-family-asks-state-to-spare-kenneth-williams-life/700111681)
- Williams, now an ordained minister, has exhibited both remorse and reform during his life in prison, even stating that he has accepted whatever penalty he receives.
If Arkansas carries out Williams’s execution, it will mark their third execution in less than a week. On April 24, 2017, Arkansas executed Jack Jones and Marcel Williams; it marked the first double execution in the United States in 16 years. Jones, a diabetic amputee in a wheelchair, suffered from mental impairment, bipolar disorder and, like Williams, had a past that included physical and sexual abuse.
During Jones’s execution, officials searched for approximately 45 minutes to find a vein to insert the IV in. They even attempted to insert the needle into Jones’s neck. According to witnesses, Jones gulped and gasped for air during the consciousness check (a claim the Arkansas AG disputed – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/this-activist-nun-live-tweeted-the-arkansas-executions_us_58ff4bfce4b0288f5dc7edc8). These irregularities lead to a temporary stay of execution for Marcel Williams due to concerns that his obesity would make it impossible for officials to find a vein.
One of the drugs used for the execution, Midazolam, has a past of leading to botched executions in Oklahoma and Arizona. In those cases, the executed were said to writhe in pain on the gurney as the execution was carried out (http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/arkansas-executions-170425003426592.html).
The State of Arkansas has sought to push through these executions and others (originally planning eight in an eleven day period – the highest number in 40 years for the United States) because their supply of midazolam expires on April 30, 2017. Further complicating matters is the fact that the State of Arkansas essentially acquired the drugs illegally. (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/04/arkansas-wants-to-execute-seven-inmates-before-their-drugs-expire/522861/).
Taken on their own, these issues are troubling enough. They are made more troubling when seen through the lens of Christianity, a religion whose central figure was executed by the state. The death penalty stands in direct contradiction to the teachings of mercy, grace, and forgiveness taught by Jesus. As followers of Christ Crucified, we have a responsibility to speak out against this violence.
The death penalty is immoral. It is inhumane. It does nothing to deter violent crime and it does not heal the vicious wounds left behind by violent crime. It is time to end the death penalty.
For more on this subject I strongly recommend this article: http://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2017/04/26/last-suppers-jesus-christ-and-ledell-lee
Postscript (written 4/28/17): After a temporary stay during which the Supreme Court debated the Constitutionality of executing a mentally impaired individual, the State of Arkansas executed Kenneth Williams. Media witnesses describe Williams as coughing, spasming, jerking, and more during the execution after movement should have ceased: