UPDATED Thursday 11:12 p.m., Arkansas time. Kenneth Dewayne Williams was put to death by lethal injection in a 13-minute procedure with less than an hour remaining before his death warrant would run out.
For the fourth time in the past eight days, the Supreme Court on Thursday night refused to delay an execution in Arkansas. This time, there were no recorded dissents as the court allowed the state to carry out the death sentence for Kenneth Dewayne Williams, convicted of a murder 18 years ago.
The Justices issued three separate orders, in response to triple filings by Williams’ lawyers. The filings focused on claims that Williams is intellectually disabled, and thus is not constitutionally eligible to be executed. His lawyers claimed that he had never had a chance to make that claim in court. State officials argued in their filings that Williams could have raised that point much earlier. but waited to do so until execution was imminent.
Arkansas bunched up a series of executions — it originally planned eight in an 11-day period — because its supply of one of the lethal drugs to be used had an expiration date at the end of this month. Four of the eight executions were blocked by the state supreme court for a variety of reasons. The state was allowed by the Supreme Court and lower federal and state courts to go ahead with the four other scheduled executions — one on April 20, two on April 24 and one Thursday night.
Thursday’s execution had been scheduled for 7 p.m. local time,but was delayed more than three hours while the Supreme Court considered Williams’ three challenges. One of those challenges had the support of a legal brief filed by the Fair Punishment Project at Harvard Law School, an advocacy organization that campaigns against “excessive punishment.” The Harvard group not only called for an order to stop the Williams execution, but also urged the Justices to use his case to examine the constitutionality of the death penalty, arguing that the whole process has become intolerably arbitrary.
The three orders issued by the Justices contained no reasons and no mention of the Harvard group’s filing. The fact that there were no recorded dissents did not mean that all nine Justices agreed with the orders; sometimes they have objections that go unexpressed publicly. When the court allowed the first of the four executions in Arkansas on April 20. the Justices split 5-to-4, with new Justice Neil M> Gorsuch supplying a fifth vote to make a majority — his first significant vote as a Justice.
All nine Justices participated in the consideration of Williams’ challenges. If any had not taken part, that would have been noted in the orders.
After state officials were notified of the Supreme Court’s actions Thursday night, they began the execution process. The death warrant for Williams was scheduled to expire at midnight local time.