UPDATE: The execution was carried out late Thursday night. Head here for more.
On Thursday night, Arkansas plans to execute Kenneth Williams, who is on death row for killing a man named Cecil Boren in 1999. Williams already was serving a life sentence for killing Dominique Herd, an 18-year-old cheerleader, when he escaped from prison, killed Boren at his nearby home and stole his car, according to court records.
Before Williams was arrested again, he fled from police in a high-speed chase that also killed Michael Greenwood, a truck driver. Greenwood was a father, with 5-year-old Kayla at home, and his wife, Stacey, pregnant with twin boys.
Nearly two decades later, Williams, 38, is scheduled to die by lethal injection, the last in a flurry of executions Arkansas scheduled this month before one of its drugs expires. Boren’s relatives want Williams to be executed; Boren’s widow, Genie, went to his clemency hearing, where Boren’s daughter argued against giving him a reprieve. Genie plans to attend the lethal injection.
But Greenwood’s family wants Williams’s life to be spared.
“I never wanted him to be put to death. Ever,” Kayla Greenwood, 22, said in a telephone interview from her home outside Springfield, Mo. “Nobody in my family disagrees. Not one person.”
Greenwood said she learned about Williams’s execution date, which Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) set earlier this year, when her mother sent her a news article featuring an interview with the condemned man, who also has confessed to a third killing. She discovered that Williams has a daughter named Jasmine, just a little younger than Kayla, and that Jasmine has her own daughter — Williams’s grandchild — who the death row inmate has never met.
She also found out that Jasmine had set up an online fundraising page so she could fly to see Williams. Jasmine’s words moved Greenwood and resonated with her; Greenwood has two young boys who also never met their maternal grandfather.
“Reading her story, it took the words right out of my mouth,” Greenwood said. “I have children and I would love for one last chance to see my dad and my kids together.”
Greenwood said her family decided to pay for plane tickets so that Jasmine and her daughter could fly to Arkansas from their home near Seattle for what could be a final meeting with Williams before he is executed.
Arkansas has been at the center of debate about the death penalty in recent weeks, after the state scheduled what would have been an unprecedented eight executions in 11 days. Courts have blocked half of those, while three other death sentences have been carried out, including two back-to-back lethal injections Monday.
Williams’s execution is the final one on the calendar for Arkansas, where officials defended their schedule as necessary because their stock of midazolam, a sedative, expires on April 30. Lethal injection drugs are increasingly difficult to obtain, and Arkansas authorities say they are unsure if more can be obtained, leaving unclear when the next execution might occur in the state.
Greenwood and her family had little time to get Jasmine to the state prison southeast of Little Rock where executions are held. Greenwood said she and her relatives — her mother, both brothers and her stepfather, along with members of a television news crew — left early Wednesday and drove the 200 miles to the Little Rock airport to pick up Jasmine and bring her to the prison.
“Me and Jasmine, we immediately connected … she didn’t have to explain her feelings because I already knew,” Greenwood said. “We could talk about it.”
Jasmine asked the Greenwood family to wait outside the prison while she visited her father because prison officials would not allow them to visit Williams, Kayla Greenwood said.
“Watching her leave the prison and knowing that was probably their last goodbye broke my heart,” Greenwood wrote in a letter to Hutchinson on Thursday. “Jasmine has done nothing at all, but like me, she could lose her father.”
The Greenwood family took Jasmine to a hotel, where the two women sat in a room talking until late Wednesday night. Kayla’s other relatives were downstairs in a restaurant and ran into anti-death-penalty protesters, in town for what would be the fourth Arkansas execution in a week, staying at the same hotel.
“We didn’t want to leave,” Kayla Greenwood said. The Greenwood family eventually drove back to Missouri that night, while Jasmine and her daughter left Thursday, hours before officials plan to execute Williams using a lethal three-drug combination.
Greenwood, who found Jasmine after Google searches helped her track down Williams’s attorneys, sent a letter Thursday to Hutchinson pleading with him to call off the execution. Her letter was sent the same day Williams’s attorneys appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the execution, arguing that he is intellectually disabled and should not be killed.
“It would be dishonest to say that this is an easy thing to do,” Greenwood wrote. “It is not. When he took my father from us, Mr. Williams caused us all a great deal of pain. We still miss him and we still hurt.”
A spokesman for Hutchinson did not immediately respond to a message Thursday asking if the governor had received the Greenwood family’s messages.
Greenwood said she believes that Williams, who is now an ordained minister, has changed and now tries to help people.
She knows this feeling is not universal. Genie Boren, whose husband Cecil was shot by Williams, said she has no doubts he should be executed.
“My girls and I decided that we should do that, that we should attend,” Genie Boren said. “This has been going on 17 years. We’d like for it happen before all of us die ourselves.”
Boren still lives in the home not far from the Cummins Unit prison, the facility from which Williams escaped in 1999 and where he is scheduled to be executed. She regularly drives by the facility.
“I always look over that way, because I know he’s there,” Boren said. “And once he’s gone, I’ll know he’s gone.”
One of Greenwood’s twin brothers, Michael Jr., said that while their family would not want Williams to be executed, he understands that other victims’ relatives might feel otherwise.
“The other families, if they need this for closure, I’m not going to deprive them of having this,” he told the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader.
Greenwood said that her family also went through periods when they wanted Williams to die. She knows that Boren’s family hopes this execution will “give them the peace they need.”
In her letter to Hutchinson, Greenwood said that she does not want to ignore “the pain felt by the victims of Mr. Williams’s other crimes,” but said that her family thinks putting him to death would only cause more suffering.
Greenwood said that her family has not been contacted by state officials in the final weeks before his execution, not when Williams had a clemency hearing or when his lethal injection was scheduled. They also were not asked if any members of the family wanted to attend the execution, she said.
It would have been an easy decision, Kayla Greenwood said.
“I would not want to be there,” she said.