GRADY — Death row inmate Kenneth Williams of Pine Bluff was executed Thursday night at the Cummins Unit for the 1999 murder of Grady resident Cecil Boren. The execution, which had been scheduled for 7 p.m., was delayed several hours after the state granted a “courtesy” to the United States Supreme Court, allowing justices to review several last-minute motions filed by Williams’ attorneys.
A spokesman for Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the delay was not considered a stay because there were no pending appeals. It was simply a review of documents by the Supreme Court, the spokesman said.
Williams, 38, was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m.
Williams was responsible for the deaths of four people in total and was sentenced to life in prison after he kidnapped and fatally shot 19-year-old University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff student Dominique Hurd in 1998. He was sentenced to death after escaping the Department of Correction’s Cummins Unit in 1999 and murdering Boren, 57, a former assistant warden at the unit.
Williams was captured only after causing a fatal auto collision with water-delivery driver Michael Greenwood, 24, in southern Missouri. In 2005 letter to the Commercial, Williams admitted to murdering Jerrell Jenkins, 36, in Pine Bluff on the same day he killed Hurd.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said after the execution that “tonight the rule of law was upheld as the family of Cecil Boren saw justice done. On October 3, 1999, Cecil was simply going about his daily life at his home near the Cummins Prison Unit when he was shot and killed by an escapee who was serving life imprisonment without parole for capital murder. I pray this lawful execution will bring closure and peace to the Boren family.”
Williams was the fourth person executed in Arkansas since April 20 and the state’s first executions since Eric Nance was put to death in 2005.
Williams’ attorneys argued that the execution should be stayed because he had an intellectual disability and juror misconduct occurred at his trial, among other things.
Hutchinson scheduled eight executions between April 17 and Thursday, which would have been the most executions in such a condensed time period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The state was racing to complete the executions before its supply of one of the drugs used in the execution process, the sedative midazolam, expired at the end of the month.
Hutchinson issued the following statement late Thursday night on the recent executions:"The long path of justice ended tonight and Arkansans can reflect on the last two weeks with confidence that our system of laws in this state has worked. Carrying out the penalty of the jury in the Kenneth Williams case was necessary. There has never been a question of guilt. "In 1999, Williams was serving a life sentence for the murder of 19-year-old Nikki Hurd when he escaped and proceeded to kill again: 57-year-old Cecil Boren, a grandfather and husband to Genie, and a Missouri man, 24-year-old Michael Greenwood. Williams would later confess to the unsolved murder of 36-year-old Jerrell Jenkins, a father and stepfather. "In the last seven days, after decades of waiting, the families of Debra Reese, Christine Lewis, Mary Phillips, Lorraine Anne Barrett, Stacy Errickson, Nikki Hurd, Jerrell Jenkins and Cecil Boren were finally provided the justice they were promised and they also saw that our system of laws have meaning.”
Legal challenges delayed four of the executions. Ledell Lee was executed April 20. Jack Jones Jr. and Marcel Williams were executed back-to-back Monday.
Fellow death-row inmate Jason McGehee was scheduled to be executed on Thursday immediately prior to Kenneth Williams. But his case was put on hold after the Arkansas Parole Board recommended he receive clemency.
Greenwood’s widow and daughter bought plane tickets for Williams’ daughter and granddaughter to visit the prison before his scheduled execution. On Thursday, the widow and daughter sent a letter to Hutchinson requesting a temporary reprieve for Williams.
Greenwood’s widow, Stacey Yaw, wrote that her daughter had not had the chance to meet her father’s killer and receive closure. Kayla Greenwood, Greenwood’s daughter, wrote that her family had not been alerted to Williams’ clemency hearing earlier in April. If they had, she wrote that she would have spoken to the parole board in favor of commuting his sentence so that he could positively influence others’ lives.
Hutchinson responded to the Greenwood family shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday. In a statement, the governor said he appreciated “the genuine spirit of forgiveness and compassion demonstrated by Ms. Greenwood.”
“Her letter certainly has an impact, however my responsibility is to look at the totality of the case including the view of all the victims and the interest of justice,” Hutchinson said. “Kenneth Williams murdered multiple people, and actions have consequences.”
According to an email distributed to the news media Thursday, Williams contacted freelance journalist Deborah Robinson on Thursday afternoon and provided an 1,808-word statement titled “Last Words.”
Williams credited the mother of Hurd and the daughter of Michael Greenwood with planting the seed so he could become a born-again Christian.
“I have been forever changed, forever grateful because of ‘Extreme Grace Unmerited,’” he wrote. “Amen.”
Arkansas Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves said Williams received Holy Communion in lieu of his last meal on Thursday. Prison officials delivered a tray to his cell between 3 and 4 p.m. with a meal identical to that received by the general Cummins population, but Graves said he did not know whether Williams ate from it.
The meal consisted of two pieces of fried chicken, barbecued beans, sweet rice, whole kernel corn, stewed seasoned tomatoes, two cinnamon rolls, two cookies, four slices of bread and fruit punch.
The Rev. Dewitt Hill, pastor of First Trinity Church of God in Pine Bluff, said he received a letter from Williams on Wednesday. In the letter, Williams wrote that he felt the execution was not going to happen, according to Hill, but if it did he was at peace. Williams wrote that he felt he was able to convert “most of the people on death row to God,” Hill said, adding that Williams had become a “student” of the Bible.
Boren’s niece, Terri Grimes, who attended Williams’ trial for the killing of her uncle, said she saw little remorse in him during that time.
“When I looked into his eyes during the trial, they were empty like he didn’t have a soul,” she told the Warren Eagle-Democrat. When I looked at them (his eyes) during the clemency hearings, they looked different.”
She continued: “I always felt like I was for the death penalty. When you definitely feel you’ve got the right guy, I’m for it.”
“You get the drug companies with their bias on whether or not their drug can be used. They’re trying to designate what a state can or can’t do. It wasn’t an easy process for my uncle. It carries out the final step of the trial. To me, it’s more of a closure of the trial process. It won’t bring Cecil back. I don’t feel I’ll feel jubilant or glad. I think I’ll feel sad. I’ll be praying for Kenneth’s soul.”