A murderer whose claims of mental retardation were rejected by the courts was executed Wednesday after struggling with guards and pleading for his life until the last moment.
Lewis Williams, 45, was put to death by injection for fatally shooting a 76-year-old woman during a robbery at her Cleveland home in 1983.
Four guards were needed to lift the 117-pound Williams from his knees and pry his hand off the edge of a table before carrying him into the death chamber. As he was strapped to the execution table he cried, “I’m not guilty. God, help me.”
At least nine guards restrained him as they prepared his arms and inserted needles. One guard standing at his head alternately restrained him and patted his right shoulder to comfort him.
Williams repeatedly shook his head and tried to lift himself off the preparation bed. He yelled several times, then rested his head and spoke, appearing to whisper or chant quietly.
'God, please hear my cry'
Williams kept pleading even as the warden pulled the microphone away after his final official statement: “God, please help me. God, please hear my cry.” He was pronounced dead at 10:15 a.m.
His mother, Bonnie Williams, 66, sobbed in an adjacent room separated by a window.
“It was an awful thing to watch,” assistant state public defender Stephen Ferrell said. “The struggle caught us by surprise. He didn’t seem to be like that this morning.”
It was the first time witnesses in Ohio saw members of the execution team insert the needles that delivered the lethal drugs into the condemned inmate’s arms.
The decision by the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to allow the process to be viewed settled a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in September, said prisons system director Reginald Wilkinson.
Wilkinson said officials would review what happened with Williams.
'Traumatic' for prison staff
“I would say it was disturbing. I would say it was traumatic,” Wilkinson said. “It was probably as traumatic as anything our staff has gone through.”
Williams was executed for shooting Leoma Chmielewski in the face during a robbery in her home. A footprint on the victim’s nightgown matched his shoe, and gun residue was found on a jacket at his mother’s house the day he was arrested.
Williams professed his innocence and disputed the evidence against him in a death row interview with The Associated Press last month. He said he was in Chmielewski’s house the night she died but left before she was killed.
His execution, originally set for June, was delayed while a judge considered his claim that he was mentally retarded and therefore ineligible for the death penalty. The judge rejected the claim after an expert hired by Williams’ attorneys found that he was not mentally retarded.
Williams was the ninth inmate executed in Ohio since the state resumed the death penalty in 1999.