Friday, 5 May 2017

Did Jack Jones Jr., Marcel Williams and Edsel Lee deserve to be executed?                         

In the two previous articles, I wrote about Jack Jones Jr. who anal raped and then strangled to death a woman and seriously injured the woman’s eleven-year-old daughter while trying to kill her. He was executed three hours before Marcel Williams was executed. I also said in the second article that I would describe to my readers what happened when Jack Jones Jr. was being executed.                             

Attorneys for Jones had argued that he would probably suffer from a "torturous death" because he may be resistant to Midazolam, the drug that was supposed to put him into a state of unconsciousness before being given the two fatal drugs that would kill him.

If given alone without the other drugs, a high dose of this barbiturate alone could kill a person just fine. But it would take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes before the prisoners would die.

Jones was still moving more than five minutes after he received the injection that was supposed to make him unconscious. That isn’t unusual when people are unconscious. For example sleep walkers move about when they are totally unconscious. Years ago, a man drove to his mother-in-law’s house to kill her and he was asleep all the time he was driving his car with his eyes wide open. One night in the 1960’s when I was driving a motor scooter on a two-lane highway I suddenly began driving while I was in a state of unconsciousness with my eyes open and if a truck driver heading towards me hadn’t blown his horn, I would have driven off of the cliff ahead of me.

The question that comes to the fore is this. Can a person who is unconscious feel pain?  I think they can. One night when I was asleep, I dreamed that I had to take a pee. Now when we have to pee, it is the pain that warns us that we have to take a pee. It was that pain that caused me to wake up and go to the bathroom. Now had I taken several sleeping pills before going to bed, I may not have felt the pain and subsequently peed in my bed.

I have to presume that if the dose of Midazolam is strong enough, Jones would have been in a deep state of unconsciousness and felt no discomfort at all when the other drugs were being injected into his body.  This is why the sedating barbiturate, Midazolam is used in combination with the neuromuscular blocker, Vecuronium bromide and the potassium chloride which stops the heart from beating.

I strongly suspect that the dose of Midazolam given to Jones was not at its full strength when it was injected into his body. Why do I say that?  It should be obvious. The State of Arkansas’ Department of Corrections wanted to execute eight men during the last week of April but they came to the realization that its stockpile of Midazolam that is one of three drugs used together in lethal injections would expire at the end of the month. The shelf life of the drug, Midazolam was coming to an end and they didn’t have replacements.  

In recent years, the one remaining U.S. manufacturer of the drug Thiopental stopped manufacturing it and European drug suppliers had refused to sell  any barbiturates to state corrections departments. Remember that none of aby American European allies have capital punishment. As a result, states in the U.S. have had to turn to other drugs for step 1 of the lethal injection process.

 States have therefore turned to another drug of the benzodiazepine class called Midazolam. This particular drug has no analgesic or painkilling  activity on its own. The current controversy over Midazolam being "untested" is partly true in that it is an incomplete substitute for a barbiturate. While it's usually given for the sedation phase of anesthesia at 1, 2 or 5 milligrams, recent executions have employed 10 to 100 milligrams. Florida indicates that they will use 500 milligrams for executions in their state. But even that may not be enough for the execution of a prisoner to be humane.

The holy book of the pharmacology discipline, Goodman and Gilman's The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics. The chapter on sedative-hypnotic drugs, authored by the University of Texas at Austin neuropharmacologists, Dr. R. Adron Harris and Dr. S. John Mihic, includes the following passages:

“The benzodiazepines do not produce the same degrees of neuronal depression produced by barbiturates and volatile anesthetics. As the dose of a benzodiazepine is increased, sedation progresses to a state of hypnosis and then to stupor. The clinical literature often refers to the "anesthetic" effects and uses of certain benzodiazepines, but the drugs do not cause a true general anesthesia because awareness usually persists, and immobility sufficient to allow surgery to be achieved. However, at "preanesthetic" doses, there is amnesia for events subsequent to administration of the drug.”

“The missing link in the action of a benzodiazepine such as Mdazolam is that it lacks analgesic effects. (a painkiller) That's been another objection to its use in lethal injection protocols. In fact, it’s a much greater margin of safety than barbiturates [which] is the entire reason that it has become so popular in preanesthetic medical protocols.” (In other words, a patient won’t die on the operating table because he was injected with that particular drug)

“The counter-argument and rationale for using Midazolam as a stand-in for a barbiturate is that the condemned is not intended to awaken after the other two drugs are given. But this difference in its action relative to the "time-tested" barbiturates is that the condemned may very well perceive pain with the two subsequent drugs [being injected into his body]” unquote

For this reason, most states, including Oklahoma, require that two intravenous lines be established in the condemned in the event that one doesn't work. In the most recent Oklahoma guidelines of April 14, 2014, drugs are administered by both lines regardless. However, observers and commenters were a bit puzzled as to how Lockett, a condemned prisoner in Oklahoma was reported as regaining consciousness, appeared to undergo convulsions and attempted to speak, before he later died of a heart attack.

It is difficult to forecast exactly when a drug begins to lose its potency but it is obvious that the drug, Midazolam had already lost its potency when it was injected into Jones Jr.

There are two forms of death that are indeed frightening and painful. They are suffocating to death and burning to death.

I have not experienced the latter but I have experienced suffocating. On two occasions, I suffered from what is called congestive heart failure. Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a chronic progressive condition that affects the pumping power of your heart muscles. While often referred to simply as a “heart failure,” CHF specifically refers to the stage in which fluid builds up around the heart and causes it to pump more slowly than it should. All the time this is happening, you are gasping for air. Believe me when I tell you that that is a very scary experience to go through. Jones was conscious of the fact that he was slowly suffocating to death.

The drug Potassium chloride is then used to stop the heart from beating. If that drug is inserted into a vein while the person is conscious, he would be screaming in pain because the drug gives the condemned a very painful burning sensation as it flows through his or her body. It is highly conceivable that Jones was still conscious when that drug was inserted into his vein. The spectators couldn’t hear him screaming because his diaphragm was paralyzed by the injection of Vecuronium bromide.

There is no doubt in my mind that Jack Jones Jr. died a horrible death and many will say that he deserved to die that way considering how painful the death of his first victim was and the pain his second victim endured. The United States is a democratic nation that believes in justice for all. That includes not torturing a prisoner while putting him or her to death no matter how terribly agonizing their victims died. Jones certainly deserved to die however of that, there can be no doubt in the rational minds of reasonable people.

Now I will bring you to the fate of Marcel Williams.

On November 20th, 1994, Trista, then 12 years old, was babysitting then 23-year-old Stacy Errickson's two little kids while Erickson was at work. Trista was the last person to see Stacy alive. 

While Stacy Errickson was getting gas in Jacksonville, Marcel Williams, 24 and weighing 400 pounds at the time, forced her into his car at gunpoint, drove her to several ATMs to make a total of 18 transactions, then took her to an abandoned storage shed where he  raped and strangled her to death. Williams buried her body in a shallow grave near a smokestack in North Little Rock that can still be seen today in the city's skyline.

Two days after Errickson's murder, Williams kidnapped and raped two other women within 12 hours. He left them alive.   

Williams was eventually arrested and tried for the kidnapping, rape and murder of 23 year-old Stacy Errickson. He didn’t deny the charges against him and was subsequently sentenced to death for her murder.  

His final appeal was decided on January 17, 2002 by the Supreme Court of Arkansas. His lawyer raised similar issues that Jones’ lawyer did.  However, Williams’ lawyer also asserted that the trial court erred in finding that his client received effective assistance of counsel in the penalty phase of his jury trial. He contended that William’s trial counsel was ineffective for failing to introduce mitigation evidence concerning his troubled youth and asserted that the trial court should have vacated his death sentence and ordered a new sentencing phase of the trial. Here are the findings of the appeal court re William’s appeal.

The record reflects that the trial court appointed two attorneys to represent Williams in his original trial—Herbert Wright and Phillip Hendry. The two attorneys recruited the assistance of Bill James, who also participated in Williams' defense but was not appointed by the court. After a jury trial, Williams was found guilty of all charges and convicted of the capital murder of Stacy Errickson. Following the sentencing phase of his trial, Williams was sentenced to death by lethal injection.

The record reflects that all three members of Williams's trial counsel testified it was their strategy to gain credibility with the jury, in the face of overwhelming evidence of Williams's guilt, by admitting guilt to the jury and seeking mercy through a punishment of life without parole. In an effort to obtain potentially mitigating evidence, counsel ordered a mental evaluation of Williams and reviewed his school, medical, and prison records. The potentially mitigating evidence of which counsel was aware consisted of the following: Williams had been in training school early, near the age of eleven or twelve; he had previously spent time in the Department of Correction; his mother did not provide a good home life for him; he had confrontations with his stepfather; his mother had a lot of men in and out of the house and possibly used drugs in his presence; his family faced economic hardship; and he was allegedly raped in prison at the age of sixteen.

Defense counsel did not present any of the potentially mitigating evidence of Williams's troubled background to the jury. Counsel testified at the Rule 37 hearing that they did not want to put Williams on the stand to testify to his troubled youth because they feared that it would be opening him up to questions by the prosecuting attorney about details of the gaps in time during the kidnapping of Ms. Errickson, as well as other crimes Williams had committed around the same time, including the abduction and rape of another young woman which Williams had previously pleaded guilty to at another trial. Counsel also feared that by putting Williams on the stand, they would also open him up to questions about the major disciplinary problems on his prison record. Sometimes the inculpatory evidence can do more harm than the exculpatory evidence does any good.

Rule 37 is a narrow remedy designed to prevent wrongful incarceration under a sentence so flawed as to be void

 Counsel considered using Williams's mother to put on evidence about his troubled past, but she would not cooperate with them; and Williams could not recommend anyone else who could have presented the evidence on his behalf. Thus, defense counsel chose to present only one witness during sentencing: Michael Orndorff, an inmate at the Arkansas Department of Correction. Orndorff originally received the death penalty, but his sentence was commuted to life without parole. Defense counsel intended for Orndorff to communicate to the jury that life in prison without parole, as opposed to being on death row, is an extremely harsh punishment.

Overall, the defense submitted six mitigating factors to the jury for consideration: (1) the capital murder was committed while Williams was under extreme mental or emotional disturbance; (2) the capital murder was committed while Williams was acting under unusual pressures or influences or under the domination of another person; (3) the capital murder was committed while the capacity of Williams to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law was impaired as a result of mental disease or defect, intoxication, or drug abuse; (4) the youth of Williams at the time of the commission of the capital murder; (5) that Williams accepted responsibility for his conduct and admitted his participation in the crime; and (6) that Williams showed remorse for his actions.

The State countered the defence’s submission by presenting evidence bearing on three aggravating circumstances: (1) that Williams had previously committed another felony, an element of which was the use or threat of force or violence to another person or creating a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to another person; (2) that the capital murder was committed for pecuniary gain; and (3) that the capital murder was committed in an especially cruel and depraved manner.

At the conclusion of the sentencing phase, the jury found that all three aggravating circumstances existed beyond a reasonable doubt, but found the probable existence of only one mitigating circumstance: that Williams had accepted responsibility for his conduct. The jury concluded that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt and that the death penalty was justified beyond a reasonable doubt.

A defendant must first show that counsel's performance "fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. Second, the defendant must show that counsel's errors "actually had an adverse effect on his or her defense. In William’s case, that aspect of his appeal failed.

It is only after a full investigation of all the mitigating circumstances that counsel can make an informed, tactical decision about which information would be the most helpful to his or her client's case. As I mentioned earlier, Williams’ lawyers correctly presumed that had they chose to being out Williams’ inculpatory evidence, the harm would have been disastrous to his defence.  When his counsel testified at the Rule 37 hearing, they said that looking back, they felt they should have done things differently,  however they admitted that, at the time of trial, they did not know any other way to introduce the information about Williams's troubled youth without creating a greater harm to William’s defence. In all court procedures, once a defendant takes the stand to respond to his lawyer’s questions, he is open to being questioned by the prosecutor.

At any rate, Williams had not shown that counsel's failure to introduce the evidence of his troubled past prejudiced the outcome of the sentencing phase of his trial. 

Existing documents in Williams dramatically described mistreatment, abuse, and neglect during Williams’ early childhood, as well as testimony that he was `borderline mentally retarded,' had suffered repeated head injuries, and might have mental impairments that were organic in origin.

Other omitted evidence showed that the Williams did not advance beyond sixth grade in school, his parents had been imprisoned for the criminal neglect of Williams and his siblings, he had been severely and repeatedly beaten by his father, he was in the custody of the social services bureau for two years during which he had a stint in an abusive foster home, and he was returned to the custody of his parents after they were released from prison,

Further in addition, Williams had received commendations in prison for helping to crack a prison drug ring and for returning a guard's missing wallet, and prison guards were willing to testify that he was among the inmates least likely to act in a violent or dangerous way.

Williams contended, (with no factual proof) that he had a poor home life and was allegedly raped in prison at age 16. Williams's most specific assertion was that "a different result could have occurred" if his trial counsel had presented mitigation evidence concerning his troubled youth.

The Appeal court said in response, “That allegation, however, is merely conclusory and does not establish that Williams was denied a fair trial.”  

When a defendant challenges a death sentence, the question is whether there is a reasonable probability that, absent the errors, the sentencing judge would have concluded that the balance of aggravating and mitigating circumstances did not warrant a death sentence.

The court also said that it was likely that the jury would have viewed Williams's prior difficulties with the law as both a juvenile and an adult unfavorably, and for this reason, they may not have been sympathetic to his troubled family background. 

The court further said, We will not grant post-conviction relief for ineffective assistance of counsel where the petitioner failed to show what the omitted testimony was and how it could have changed the outcome. Williams has failed to demonstrate there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's failure to introduce the evidence of his troubled youth, the jury would have reached a sentence of life imprisonment without parole. As Williams has failed to demonstrate both error and prejudice, we affirm the death sentence.” unquote  

The execution of Marcel Williams on April 24, 2017                            

I am going to use the words of Jacob Rosenberg (reporter with the Arkansas Times) who was a witness to the execution of Williams in the Cummins Unit where the prisoners on death row are housed and where the executions in Arkansas are undertaken. The Unit is located in the City of Grady, Arkansas that is about 80 miles southeast of Little Rock.         

“At 9.34 pm we entered the execution chamber. I passed through a door with a large sign on its front showing two letters, “EC”, (Execution Chamber) and took a seat among a few rows of chairs that faced four large rectangular windows. Some lights were on, but it was mostly dim. A black curtain was drawn behind the windows in front of us. Behind that curtain, strapped to a gurney in an even smaller room, was Marcel Williams.

“In Arkansas, we do not get to see the placement of the IV for lethal injection. So, from the time we entered until the curtain opened, I saw nothing. We just stared forward at those windows, waiting for them to reveal Williams, 46, who was sent to death row for the 1994 rape and killing of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson, whom he kidnapped from a gas station.      

“We had done this earlier in the night, when a last-minute stay had us waiting in the chamber for over an hour. During that time, we later learned, Williams had been strapped down on the gurney. Now, as then, with the stay lifted, I simply looked at the black curtain, knowing almost nothing about what was happening to the prisoner. The curtain created a reflection of the room behind me, like a mirror. I could see other witnesses, and myself, fidget.

“At 10.16 pm, after 32 minutes of IV placement, the curtain opened. Light from fluorescent bulbs cast a strange yellow glow in the room in front. Marcel Williams’s eyes looked right up at the ceiling. He was on a gurney, tied down. His head was locked in place and the right side of his body was facing us, the viewers. He said no final words.

“At this point, the first lethal injection drug – the controversial sedative midazolam, whose expiration date at the end of this month has prompted Arkansas’s unprecedented wave of judicial killings – was supposed to be administered. No one announced that a drug was being given. The process simply moved along. I watched and tried to follow the procedure.

“His eyes began to droop and one eventually closed.  The right one lingered slightly open throughout. His breaths became deep and heavy. His back arched off the gurney as he sucked in air. I could not count the number of times his body moved in such a way; rising off the gurney.

“Procedure dictates that five minutes after the introduction of Midazolam there should be no movements. But, at 10.21 pm, (five minutes) Williams was still breathing heavily and moving. The man in the room checked his pulse and touched his eyes and said something. The audio was cut off for us.

“At this point, it is likely another dose of Midazolam was given. However, I cannot be sure it was administered. I was watching him breathe heavily and arch his back and then the breathing began to shallow out. By 10.24 pm, (nine minutes) Williams looked completely still.

“The first consciousness check was clearly at 10.21 pm, and then it seems the breathing subsided, but the situation became confusing as the official continually checked Williams by touching his hands and face. At 10.27 pm, the official ran a finger across Williams’s eyelids again. Was this the second consciousness check? Did they determine Williams was unconscious? Would the second drug be administered now?

“These questions are crucial because the next drug was a paralytic, which stops all movement.

“I do not know when the second drug, which would mask all pain, was administered. I did not see the IV placed. The audio was cut so I could not hear whether he was moaning, and I could not see how many times each drug was administered – meaning, even as a witness, I could not say if Marcel Williams felt pain or what happened during his death by the midazolam three-drug protocol.

“The process is designed to feed me details as a viewer that suggest peaceful passing. But this will not have been the experience of Marcel Williams.

“Protocol ensures that by the time the potassium chloride, which stops the heart and can be excruciatingly painful, is administered, even if the prisoner feels pain, the viewer will not see it. The paralytic is in place.

“Near 10.31 pm, they switched off the IVs. The man who had been checking for consciousness pulled out a stethoscope and put it to Williams’s heart. He called in a coroner. I remember seeing Williams, there on the gurney, not moving.

“And then, the one detail you can’t obfuscate. That nothing can hide. The time of death was 10.33 pm. unquote

It took Williams sixteen minutes to die. Did he suffer during that time?  That is hard to answer. Let me explain what I do know.

I have been given a general anesthetic three times and during all three times, I was completely unaware of what was happening to me each time while the surgery was being conducted. The last operation I had was in 1999 when I was undergoing a triple heart bypass operation.  It involves spreading my ribs apart so that the surgeon can removed the bad arteries and replace them with the tow veins from my legs.  

I was injected with a drug that would paralyze all my muscles including the one that controls my breathing and my heart. For the entire operation, a machine was keeping me alive.  All through the operation and for an hour after the operation, I was totally unconscious. I remember absolutely nothing as to what was going on during the operation. I would be less than honest however if I didn’t admit that there have been instances where people were not unconscious when they were being operated on even though they were given a drug that was suppose to put them into a state of unconsciousness.  They obviously weren’t given enough of the Midazolam to keep them fully unconscious.

The crime and execution of Ledsel Lee

Ledsel Lee was convicted in 1995 in the murder of Debra Reese, 26, that occurred two years prior to his trial. Reese was found dead in her home in Jacksonville, Arkansas, where she had been strangled and beaten with a small wooden bat her husband had given her for her protection. Lee was spotted by neighbours leaving the Reese home and later identified as the killer of Debra Reese.

His execution followed a flurry of court rulings on Thursday, April 27th capped by the US Supreme Court's denial of multiple requests for stays of his execution.

His last meal was a wafer during Holy Communion. Just before Lee was put to death, officials at the Cummins Unit prison in Grady, Arkansas, asked him twice for his final words, but he did not respond. The creep didn’t even apologize to his victim’s family.

At 11:44 p.m., Lee was given the lethal injection. His eyes closed three minutes later. He did not appear to show signs of discomfort, according to Sean Murphy, a reporter with the Associated Press who attended the execution as one of three media witnesses. I have to presume that his executioners made sure that he was given a sufficient amount of Midazolam to make sure that he was fully unconscious during his execution.

A member of the execution team began a consciousness check at 11:49 p.m. by flicking (Lee's) head, rubbing his eyes and tapping his sternum. There was no reflex on Lee’s part.  Then at 11:55 p.m. his heart was checked with a stethoscope," Murphy said. Lee was officially pronounced dead one minute later 30 minutes after the Supreme Court of the United States denied Lee’s request for a stay of his execution.

No more executions by the State of Arkansas took place  that month since the deadline with respect to the potency of Midazolam was fast approaching. 


I said at the beginning of this three-part series that I am against capital punishment because of the risk of executing innocent people. I also pointed out the exceptions to my views on that subject when I said that terrorists, mass and serial killers and those killers who tortured their victims to death should be executed.

There is no doubt in my mind that the three kinds of killers I wrote about in this series were unquestionably guilty of killing their victims. That is why I have no qualms about them also being executed.

I am in my eighties and anyone who is still living that long will look back over the years of their lives and know that had they been murdered when they were much younger, they will realize just how much of their lives wouldn’t have existed after their deaths at the hands of their killers. If I was murdered while I was in my twenties, I wouldn’t have met my wife, been the father of two daughters and the grandfather of four granddaughters and a grandson and visited thirty countries around the world.  

This is why I have little concern whatsoever about killers who are convicted of first degree murder being executed. However, what concerns I do have is that if they are not given a fair trial and that their convictions are therefore not valid and their deaths are not quick and painless, then a real injustice will have taken place.  

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