Families Of Victims Killed By Inmate Conflicted About Carrying Out Execution

Apr 27, 2017

State police secure the Arkansas Department of Correction Cummins unit during another execution earlier this month.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Updated at 6:45 p.m.  

Kenneth Williams, who is set to be executed Thursday at 7 p.m. killed four people in separate incidents. But relatives of the victims are mixed about whether his execution should be carried out. Loved ones for the man whose case led to the death sentence are supporting the lethal injection, but relatives of another victim say the execution would only cause more pain.

In a reprieve letter, attorneys for Williams say the Arkansas Parole Board never gave the family of Michael Greenwood notice or an opportunity to speak at a clemency hearing. Greenwood's family members say they have forgiven Williams and do not want him executed. 

Late Thursday afternoon U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall rejected the inmate's last-minute stay on that issue. He said state law only requires notification to the relatives of the person whose killing led to the death sentence. 

Greenwood was killed in a car crash with Williams after the inmate escaped from prison while serving a life sentence for the murder of University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff student Dominique Hurd in 1998. Williams abducted Hurd and a friend, forced them to withdraw money from an ATM, then shot both. The friend survived, while Hurd succumbed to her injuries.

Williams also killed Cecil Boren, a retired deputy warden who lived near the Cummins Unit, and took his pickup truck and several guns during the escape before being involved in the crash during a police chase in Missouri that killed Greenwood.

Boren's relatives support carrying out a jury's death sentence, with some even ready to witness the execution. Prosecutors said Williams attacked Boren while he was working in his garden and hid the body in a nearby bayou. It was for the murder of Boren that Williams was sentenced to die.

"We are looking forward to this happening so we can put it behind us," Boren's wife of 34 years, Genie Boren, told Little Rock television station KATV, channel 7.

Cecil Boren's daughter Jodie Efird said she believes Arkansas carrying out death sentences will serve as a deterrent to others.

"It's time that our country become more focused on taking care of the people who are doing the right thing and who live their lives the right way, and send a message to society that we will not tolerate this barbaric behavior these men have done," she said.

But Greenwood's daughter Kayla said the execution would cause her family "additional suffering." She said it was not an easy decision and not one meant to minimize her pain or that of the families of Williams' other victims. In a letter to Governor Asa Hutchinson, she said:

By asking you to spare Mr. Williams life we are in no way asking you to ignore the pain felt by the victims of Mr. Williams' other crimes. We know that they are going through but ours is a pain that we have decided not to try and cure by seeking an execution. His execution will not bring my father back or return to us what has been taken, but it will cause additional suffering.

Her mother, Stacey Yaw drew on her faith as a reason to spare William's life.

“On October 4th 1999 I became a widow and a single mother of three. I was 6 months pregnant with twins and had a five year old daughter. Parenting up to that point had been a fun joyful experience but after the day my husband was killed it became the biggest challenge I would ever face. I was left with a broken hearted five year old girl that had been traumatized and it changed the course of our life forever.

I'm asking you to spare Mr. Williams life because I am now faced again with a heart broken daughter that feels she needs to meet her father’s killer face to face and tell him she forgives him for her closure and was denied that opportunity. We also did not get informed or invited to testify at his clemency hearing. We all would have spoken to the parole board and told them we didn't want Mr. Williams executed. As a family of very strong faith we don't feel taking a life is up to us to decide. We believe In following Gods will.”

The Greenwood family helped raise travel funds to send the daughter and grand daughter of Williams from Washington D.C. to Cummins Prison to see him before his execution.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Governor Hutchinson responded:

I have reviewed the letter from the Greenwood family, and I appreciate 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. Kenneth Williams murdered multiple people, and actions have consequences. Kenneth Williams murdered 19-year-old Nikki Hurd and was charged with capital murder. Williams was then spared the death penalty by the jury who gave him life in prison without the possibility of parole. Despite this showing of mercy, Kenneth Williams determined to escape from prison. After 18 days in prison, he escaped and took human life again with the killing of Cecil Boren. These facts support the final verdict of the second jury in giving the death penalty.