Arkansas has executed two death row inmates on the same gurney in a single day, marking the first double execution in the United States since 2000.

On Monday, attempts by the inmates' lawyers to halt their execution proved unsuccessful and both were put to death by lethal injection. 

Marcel Williams was pronounced dead at 10:33pm Monday, 17 minutes after the procedure began at the Cummins Unit in southeast Arkansas. Inmate Jack Jones was executed earlier in the evening. 

Williams' legal team unsuccessfully tried to convince the court to halt his execution, claiming that the Jones execution was botched earlier in the day. The lawyers argued that Jones gulped for air and suffered during his lethal injection, while the Arkansas attorney general's office disputed that account.

US District Judge Kristine Baker temporarily stopped Arkansas from executing Marcel Williams on Monday, but lifted her stay after about an hour.

A spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Williams' execution on Monday night could proceed after the order was lifted.

It was not clear if his lawyers were pursuing other options to delay the punishment, with his death warrant due to expire at midnight (05:00 GMT on Tuesday).

The unprecedented execution plan in Arkansas, where eight inmates were initially scheduled to die in 11 days, has been widely criticised by rights groups due to the use of the drug midazolam, which has been linked to previous botched executions. 

 

Jones, 52, was sent to death row for the 1995 rape and killing of Mary Phillips. He was also convicted of attempting to kill Phillips' 11-year-old daughter and was convicted in another rape and killing in Florida.

Reporters witnessing his execution said he delivered a lengthy last statement, including an apology to the young girl who he left for dead after murdering her mother.

Williams, 46, was sentenced to death for the 1997 kidnapping, rape and murder of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson.

Arkansas authorities are in a rush to carry out the executions before the end of April, when its supply of midazolam expires.

One inmate was put to death last week, though the first three executions were cancelled because of court rulings.

A flurry of lawsuits and appeals have been filed on behalf of the inmates in Arkansas courts, as well as the US Supreme Court.

Midazolam was used in flawed executions in Oklahoma and Arizona, where witnesses said the inmates writhed in apparent pain on the gurney.

INFOGRAPHIC: Death penalty around the world in 2016

The US has put to death 1,450 people since 1976, according to the Washington, DC-based Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).

Another 2,900 people are currently on death row.

Thirty-two states, as well as the US federal government, use lethal injection as their primary method for execution.

With recurrent legal efforts to effectively ban lethal injection, many states have alternative methods, including firing squads.

Source: News agencies