State executes ninth inmate in four years

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 15, 2004

LUCASVILLE (AP) - Prison officials will review the execution of a condemned killer who struggled as guards inserted needles into his arms and pleaded for God's help until falling unconscious before death.

Lewis Williams, convicted of fatally shooting a Cleveland woman in the face 21 years ago, was pronounced dead at 10:15 a.m. Wednesday.

He was the first Ohio inmate whose entire execution process was visible, including preparations before entering the death chamber. The execution team had to forcibly lift Williams from his knees and pry his hand off the edge of a table next door to the death chamber.

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It was the first time in nine executions since the state resumed

the practice in 1999 that an inmate has struggled with guards in the death chamber.

''It was an awful thing to watch,'' said Stephen Ferrell, an assistant state public defender.

Reginald Wilkinson, Ohio's prisons director, called it disturbing and traumatic.

He said prison officials are interviewing the execution team and analyzing whether Williams' struggle was an isolated incident or related to the first public viewing of the preparation process.

''Obviously when you're having to deal with an inmate who's resisting, it is different than before,'' Wilkinson said. He said no one on the 12-person execution team has asked to be removed.

Wilkinson said Williams threatened to resist while on death row. Williams was vocal about his upcoming execution but left Mansfield Correctional Institution for the death chamber in Lucasville quietly, said Andrea Dean, prison system spokeswoman.

Williams' peaceful mood while reading the Bible and talking with his lawyer in the hours before his death disappeared when the execution process began at 9:51 a.m. at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.

Williams, 45, professed his innocence even as he was carried into the death chamber by four guards.

''I'm not guilty. I'm not guilty. God, please help me,'' Williams said as he was strapped to the execution table. The diminutive Williams was 5 foot 3 inches tall and weighed 117 pounds, according to prison officials.

Williams continued to cry out as his mother, Bonnie Williams, 66, of Columbus, sobbed in a room separated by windows from the death chamber.

He kept pleading even in his final official statement, given at 10:07 a.m. ''God, please help me. God, please hear my cry,'' Williams said.

Williams' yells continued after warden James Haviland pulled the microphone away. Williams continued yelling until 10:08 a.m. when he abruptly stopped speaking. His chest rose and fell a couple times.

He was executed for shooting Leoma Chmielewski, 76, during a robbery in her Cleveland home in 1983.

Williams also professed his innocence in a death row interview with The Associated Press last month.

Prosecutors say Williams has changed his story several times about his involvement, including one statement that he was in Chmielewski's house the night she died but said he left before she was killed.

The decision by the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to allow the process to be viewed settles a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in September, Wilkinson said.

But the ACLU said Wednesday it hadn't decided whether to drop the action.

It took several members of the execution team to carry a struggling Williams into the preparation room, as seen on two monitors in the witness room next to the death chamber. At least nine guards had to restrain Williams at various points as they prepared his arms and inserted needles.

Williams repeatedly shook his head and tried to lift himself off the preparation bed. He yelled several times, then would rest his head and speak quietly, appearing to whisper at points and chant at other points.

One guard standing at his head alternately restrained him and patted his right shoulder to comfort him.

In 1999, a problem inserting an injection needle into Wilford Berry's right arm delayed Ohio's first execution since 1963 for more than 20 minutes.

Williams tried unsuccessfully to challenge the constitutionality of how inmates are executed in Ohio. The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected his final request to stay his execution.

Williams was the first Ohio inmate whose mental retardation claim was rejected to be executed.