LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Eighteen condemned inmates say in new court filings that the executions of four men in Arkansas last year exposed problems that should render the state's lethal injection procedure unconstitutional.
The prisoners late Monday asked a federal judge to let them amend a lawsuit filed after Arkansas scheduled eight executions in an 11-day period last year. Four inmates from the original lawsuit were put to death, three received stays and Gov. Asa Hutchinson granted clemency to one.
The inmates initially claimed Arkansas' use of the surgical sedative midazolam might expose them to excruciating pain because it couldn't render them unconscious before two other drugs stopped their lungs and hearts. The revised lawsuit says the four executions last year support their view.
"During several of the executions, the condemned moved when they should have been anesthetized or paralyzed," lawyers for the inmates wrote, citing witness accounts from various media, including The Associated Press. "During Kenneth Williams' execution, Williams began bucking against his restraints so hard that it caused bruising to his head."
Jack Jones' lips continued to move after he made a final statement, and five minutes into his execution his lips moved another three to five times, the lawyers said, citing an AP report.
The amended lawsuit, which must be accepted by U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker, says it was never clear whether the Arkansas Department of Correction followed its guidelines. The lawyers say there was no way to tell when each drug was administered and that it wasn't clear an attendant performed proper consciousness checks on each inmate.
"The consciousness check is necessary to discern awareness but insufficient to determine whether the prisoner is insensate to pain," the lawyers wrote.
Arkansas uses midazolam to sedate inmates at the start of its executions. The lawyers said late Monday it would be unconstitutionally cruel to subsequently shut down the inmates' lungs and hearts if the prisoners weren't unconscious. The second drug in a three-drug sequence paralyzes inmates, rendering them unable to cry out.
"The person has the desire to breathe but no ability to do so," the lawyers wrote. "Once the paralysis is total, the recipient is unable to communicate and feels as if he has been buried alive."
The inmates' lawyers said a firing squad, an overdose of pentobarbital or the anesthetic gas sevoflurane might be better options.
Courts last year rejected the inmates' effort to have the midazolam protocol declared unconstitutional and the Arkansas attorney general's office said Tuesday that this year's effort would fail, too.
"The death row inmates' proposed amended complaint is yet another attempt to delay justice for the victims and their families," Jessica Ray, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said in an email.