Inmate files suit against new plan for death penalty

Four days after state officials announced that executions of death-row inmates will resume after the Department of Correction makes “a few changes” in its lethal injection protocol, a death-row inmate has filed a legal challenge to that plan.

Frank Williams Jr., represented by assistant federal public defenders Julie Brain and Josh Lee, contends that the department violated the state’s Administrative Procedures Act by unilaterally adopting new regulations without giving the public advanced notice and a meaningful opportunity to comment on proposed changes.

Williams’ lawsuit, filed late Tuesday afternoon in Pulaski County Circuit Court, seeks a declaratory judgment that the new protocol is invalid and cannot be enforced.

Last week, Correction Department spokesman Dina Tyler said the protocol changes are minor.

“It’s just putting our practice on paper,” she said. “It will say in the policy that the members of the IV team will have at least two years of medical experience. The members do have two years, but we don’t have that written down. It also will say the drugs will be mixed according to the manufacturer’s directions. They already are, but this will just say it on paper.” Last week, Chief Deputy Attorney General Justin Allen declined to discuss the specifics of the changes until they are final, but said they represented a “couple of small suggestions” from Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, based on his reading of an April 16 U. S. Supreme Court decision.

That opinion upheld the lethal-injection method used in Kentucky, which is similar to the process used in Arkansas and several other states.

Until the high court ruled on challenges to the Kentucky procedure, executions were put on hold across the country, including in Arkansas. The procedure was challenged as cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the eighth Amendment, because some experts said the manner in which the three drugs are administered cannot guarantee that an inmate won’t feel intense pain while being unable to signal distress.

Williams, 41, was among four death-row inmates in Arkansas who had raised similar allegations in a federal lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Arkansas. Answering questions last week about the protocol changes in Arkansas, Allen said, “There are no changes to the three drugs that are given, the order in which they are given and the amount in which they are given.” Williams may be the first inmate to have an execution date set now that a stay has been lifted. He was convicted of killing a farmer who fired him in Lafayette County in 1993. A spokesman for the attorney general’s office declined Wednesday to comment on Williams’ state court lawsuit, saying attorneys in the office haven’t seen it yet. The case is assigned to Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox.



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