Arkansas set off a legal battle when it announced plans to execute eight death row inmates, pictured here, in 11 days. Kenneth Williams, bottom row, third from the left, is slated to be executed Thursday
Washington (AFP) - The last of four US prisoners rushed to death by the state of Arkansas after intense legal battles, jerked and convulsed in a "horrifying" end to his life, his lawyer said Friday, as the UN and EU renewed their opposition to the death penalty.
Kenneth Williams, a 38-year-old convicted multiple murderer, was the last of four inmates put to death over the space of a week -- the first such executions by the conservative southern state since 2005.
"Press reports state that within three minutes into the execution, our client began coughing, convulsing, jerking and lurching with sound that was audible even with the microphone turned off," lawyer Shawn Nolan said in a statement.
"Execution witnesses indicate that Mr. Williams suffered during this execution," he said.
He and the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union are calling for an investigation into whether the execution on Thursday night amounted to death through torture.
Nolan dismissed as a "whitewash" a comment by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson's spokesman that the physical agitation was an "involuntary muscular reaction" caused by one of the drugs used.
The compressed timeline for the series of executions was designed to beat an April 30 expiry of a drug, midazolam, used as a sedative in the lethal injections.
Challenges to the executions had been made not only by lawyers for the condemned men but also pharmaceutical companies opposed to their products being used to put people to death.
Four other prisoners also meant to have been put to death over an 11-day period before the end of this month won reprieves.
Williams's lawyers had argued, among other things, that their client should have been spared because he was intellectually disabled.
- Appeal for clemency -
Williams had been serving a life sentence for the 1998 murder of 19-year-old student and cheerleader Dominique Hurd when he escaped the penitentiary on October 3, 1999 by hiding in a tank used to carry kitchen scraps.
He came upon Cecil Boren, 57, on his farm not far from the prison, shot and killed the man and stole his truck.
Williams drove north to Missouri, where he led police on a chase that caused the death of 24-year-old delivery driver Michael Greenwood.
Hours ahead of the execution, Greenwood's daughter sent a letter asking the governor to spare Williams's life. "His execution will not bring my father back or return to us what has been taken, but it will cause additional suffering," she wrote.
She said her family, upon learning that Williams had a daughter as well as a granddaughter whom he'd never met, bought the pair plane tickets to Arkansas so they could visit him one last time. They even picked up the woman and child at the airport and drove them to the prison.
The Boren family however said the execution was a relief for them and a long time coming. "People have to be punished for things they've done," Boren's widow told local news station Fox 16.
- UN, EU condemnation -
The European Union issued a statement Friday saying it was "strongly and unequivocally opposed to capital punishment" under any circumstances.
"It remains an unacceptable denial of human rights and dignity and fails to deter crime," it said, adding that it would continue to raise the issue with the US and other countries using capital punishment.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also reiterated its opposition to executions and said its office was "deeply concerned and deeply troubled" by the Arkansas prisoners' deaths.
"Rushing executions can deny prisoners the opportunity to fully exercise their rights to appeal against their conviction," it said.
Arkansas kicked off its series of executions on Thursday of last week, putting convicted murderer Ledell Lee to death at its Cummins Unit, near Varner, Arkansas.
Jack Jones and Marcel Williams, convicted separately of rape and murder in the 1990s, were then executed on Monday in the nation's first double execution in nearly 17 years.
Kenneth Williams's execution followed on Thursday.
Many of the legal clashes focused on midazolam, which is meant to render a condemned person unconscious before other drugs cause death.
Critics say it does not always adequately sedate prisoners, potentially causing undue suffering.