June 15, 2024

Alabama man who was executed after a break in lethal injections

Alabama executed a man Friday for the 2001 beating death of a woman when the state resumed lethal injections after a botched execution prompted the governor to order an internal review of procedures.

James Barber, 64, was pronounced dead at 1:56 a.m. after receiving a lethal injection at a prison in south Alabama.

“Justice was served. This morning, James Barber was executed for the terrible crime he committed more than twenty years ago: the particularly heinous, horrific, and cruel murder of Dorothy Epps,” Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement.

Barber was convicted and sentenced to death for Epps’ death in 2001. Prosecutors said Barber, a handyman, admitted killing the 75-year-old with a claw hammer and fleeing with his wallet. Jurors voted 11-1 to recommend a death sentence, imposed by a judge.

Before he was executed, Barber told his family he loved them and apologized to the Epps family.

“I want to tell the Epps family that I love them. I’m sorry for what happened,” Barber said. “No words would fit how I feel.”

Barber said he wanted to tell the governor “and the people in this room that I forgive you for what you are about to do.”

It was the first execution in Alabama this year after the state halted executions in November. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey suspends execution to conduct internal review of procedures.

The move came after the state halted two lethal injections because of difficulties inserting IVs into the veins of the condemned men.

Attorneys for inmate Alan Miller said prison staff jabbed him with needles for more than an hour as they tried unsuccessfully to connect an IV line during Miller’s termination in September, at one point leaving him hanging vertically from a gallows. State officials halted the November execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith after failing to connect the second of two required lines.

Advocacy groups demanded a third execution, which was carried out after a delay due to IV problems, which was also botched, a claim which the state has contested.

Barber’s death came hours after Oklahoma executed Jemaine Cannon for stabbing a Tulsa woman to death with a butcher knife in 1995 after escaping from a prison workhouse.

Alabama’s governor announced in February that the state was resuming enforcement. Alabama Corrections Commissioner John Hamm said the prison system has added medical professionals, ordered new equipment and conducted additional exercises.

The last-minute legal battle focused on Alabama’s ability to obtain intravenous access in past executions. Barber’s attorneys asked the courts unsuccessfully to block the execution, saying the state has a pattern of failing to “constitutionally execute lethal injection.”

The state wrote in legal filings that it was using different IV staff members. The state also changed the deadline for the execution from midnight to 6 a.m. to allow more time for preparation and last-minute appeals.

Alabama Corrections Commissioner John Hamm said the two intravenous lines were attached to Barber with “three sticks in six minutes.”

The Supreme Court denied Barber’s request to remain silent. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissent from the decision joined by Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. She said the court was allowing “Alabama to try human life again.”

“The Eighth Amendment requires more than the State’s word that this time will be different. The Court should not allow Alabama to test the effectiveness of its internal review by using Barber as its ‘guinea pig,'” Sotomayor wrote.

The Alabama attorney general’s office urged the Supreme Court to allow the execution to continue.

The state wrote that the previous executions were halted due to “a confluence of events including health issues specific to the individual inmates and last-minute inmate litigation that greatly shortened the window for ADOC officers to carry out the executions.”

In the hours before the scheduled execution, Barber had 22 visitors and two phone calls and ate one last meal, a prison spokesman said.

After his last words, Barber spoke to a spiritual advisor who accompanied him into the death chamber. As the drugs were being administered, Barber’s eyes closed and her stomach tightened several times. His breath slowed until he was no longer visible.

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