By Steve Barnes
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) - Arkansas plans to end its series of April executions by putting to death on Thursday an inmate convicted of murdering a cheerleader and who escaped from prison and killed two other people before being captured again.
Arkansas, which had not held an execution in 12 years until this month, has put three inmates to death since April 20. It planned to execute Kenneth Williams, 38, by lethal injection at 7 p.m. CDT (0000 GMT) at its Cummins Unit prison.
Arkansas originally had planned to execute eight inmates in 11 days in April, the most of any state in as short a period since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Four of those executions were halted by various courts.
The unprecedented schedule, set because a drug in the state's execution mix expires at the end of April, prompted criticism that Arkansas was acting recklessly. It also set off legal filings that raised questions about U.S. death chamber protocols, troubled prosecutions and difficulties in obtaining lethal injection drugs.
Hours before the planned execution, lawyers for Williams filed a motion in Pulaski County, which contains the state capital, Little Rock, seeking to halt the proceedings. They argued that the state's lethal injection mix will not work as intended on a person with Williams' unique medical conditions, which include lupus and organic brain damage, causing unlawful pain and suffering.
On Wednesday, the Arkansas Supreme Court denied another request to halt the execution. Williams' lawyers argued there were problems with jury proceedings, that Williams is intellectually disabled and should be spared, and that he was convicted of capital murder without a unanimous verdict on the charge that made him eligible for the death penalty.
"We've been waiting a long, long time for this," Genie Boren, the widow of one of the murder victims, was quoted as saying by local TV broadcaster Fox 16.
Williams, sentenced to life without parole for the 1998 murder of 19-year-old college cheerleader Dominique Hurd, broke out of a maximum-security prison in 1999.
He murdered Cecil Boren, 57 at his farmhouse, shooting him multiple times. Williams then stole Boren's pickup truck and fled to Missouri, where he slammed his vehicle into one driven by delivery man Michael Greenwood, 24, killing him.
In 2005, Williams sent a letter to a local Arkansas paper where he confessed to killing Jerrell Jenkins on the same day as the cheerleader.
Williams was sentenced to death for Boren's murder.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, and Steve Barnes in Little Rock; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)