View Full Version : Alabama Is Ready/ We Are Not

10-07-2002, 05:16 PM
Death Chamber

A single hospital gurney sits alone in a stark six-sided white room at Holman Prison. It is Alabama's new lethal injection chamber and is ready for it's first scheduled use 10 days from now. The simple gurney replaces the electric chair as the state's primary method of execution. Prison officials yesterday unveiled the new chamber. It cost 180,000 dollars to build and is in the same two-story concrete block building that housed the electric chair, known for years as Yellow Mama. Prison Commissioner Mike Haley says the new chamber, with three large viewing rooms, allows for more witnesses than the old chamber. The first use of the new death chamber could come at 6 p-m on October 17th. That's when Donald Dallas is supposed to die for the July 1994 kidnapping, robbery and murder of 73-year-old Hazel Liveoak of Millbrook.

10-07-2002, 10:57 PM
Inmates may choose execution method

By Alvin Benn
Montgomery Advertiser

ATMORE -- Chemicals or electricity?

That's the decision awaiting Alabama's Death Row inmates now that the state's method of execution has been changed from electrocution to lethal injection. In effect, condemned inmates are being asked to choose their poison.

Horace DeVaughan of Birmingham was the first Alabamian to meet his death by "Yellow Mama" -- the name attached to the electric chair painted with garish yellow paint borrowed from a highway road crew. That was more than 75 years ago on April 8, 1927. Since then, 176 other convicted killers have taken a seat in the chair and waited for more than 2,000 volts of electricity to course through their bodies.

When the Alabama Legislature approved lethal injection this year, Nebraska was left as the only state that still uses the electric chair to kill those sentenced to death. In Alabama, capital punishment now will be carried out through the use of lethal injection, unless the condemned asks to be electrocuted. The new lethal injection chamber at Holman Correctional Facility is complete, and state officials will give a tour of the site today.

"I don't think the electric chair was inhumane," said Miriam Shehane, who directs Victims of Crime and Leniency, a statewide organization based in Montgomery. "No way in the world is the chair as horrible as what they did to their victims."

At one time, most Americans felt the same way. As the years passed, efforts to replace electrocution with lethal injection grew until most states began to adopt that form of execution.

Alabama has 189 inmates on death row. Two of them are scheduled to be executed in the coming weeks.

Donald Dallas is to die Oct. 17 for the robbery, kidnapping and murder of an elderly Millbrook woman. Hazel Liveoak, 73, suffered a heart attack after Dallas stuffed her inside the trunk of her car at Prattville grocery store July 12, 1994, according to police.

On Friday, the Alabama Supreme Court rejected Dallas' petition for a stay of execution, saying "there are no proceedings pending in any federal or state court."

"It is therefore time for Dallas' death sentence to be carried out," the Supreme Court said.

Dallas is one of eight death row inmates whom Attorney General Bill Pryor has asked to be executed. Pryor said their time for appeals has run out and their death sentences should be carried out.

George Sibley Jr. is scheduled to die Nov. 7 for the murder of Opelika police officer Roger Motley. Sibley's common-law wife, Lynda Lyon Block, died in the electric chair May 10 after refusing to continue her appeal process. Block was the first woman executed in Alabama since capital punishment was reinstated in 1983.

Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative said that if the two sentences are carried out, they most likely will be by lethal injection.

Inmates are allowed to choose the manner in which they will die. The electric chair will continue to be used if condemned prisoners opt for that method, but Stevenson expects most to just "let it ride."

"I think most prisoners will say nothing and the state will impose lethal injections," said Stevenson, whose organization represents several death row inmates. "I also think that few, if any, inmates will express interest in execution by electrocution."

Most Alabama inmates who are executed have been on death row for more than a decade. In Dallas' case, it's been seven years. Stevenson said many of Alabama's condemned inmates are too poor to hire lawyers to help them with their appeals.

"Dozens of people are on death row who don't have legal representation," Stevenson said. "They miss appeal and filing deadlines for that reason and the state moves in to execute them. I think it's unjust to simply execute because inmates are too poor to get legal help."

Brian Corbett of the state Department of Corrections said electrocution is a two-minute process in which 2,050 volts of electricity course through an inmate's body for 20 seconds. Then 200 volts are directed into the prisoner for another 100 seconds.

With lethal injection, three chemicals are used, Corbett said. Sodium pentothal and pancuronium bromide are injected first, followed by potassium chloride -- the lethal component that stops the heart.

"The first injections pretty much follow procedures used during general surgery," said Dr. James Lauridson, a former state medical examiner who has performed autopsies on those who died in the electric chair. "The person who is to be executed is unconscious by the time the potassium chloride is administered."

Former state Rep. Paul Parker of Hartselle was one of the legislators who pushed for a change in Alabama's method of execution.

"I think electrocution was a bad reflection on our state, especially for industrial development," Parker said. "Changing to lethal injections puts us into the mainstream of America."

Alabama's electric chair was built in 1927 by Edward Mason, a British-born cabinet maker who wound up behind bars here on a burglary conviction. Hangings, which had been conducted in county jails, were outlawed by the Legislature, which voted to use electrocution instead.

That presented somewhat of a problem, since Alabama didn't have an electric chair. Charlie Bodiford, who worked for the state Department of Corrections for many years before retiring, said Mason thought he would be paroled if he built it.

Mason completed the electric chair in March 1927 and DeVaughan, who was convicted of murdering a couple at a lover's lane in Birmingham, was first to sit in "Yellow Mama." It happened on April 8, 1927.

It is unclear if Mason ever got that parole, Bodiford said.

Terry Pearce of Mobile, whose 90-year-old grandmother, Irma Gray, authorities say was raped and killed by Larry Hutcherson in 1992, has no sympathy for condemned killers who commit heinous crimes.

Pearce likens lethal injections to "the kindness that we use on our pets to relieve them of their suffering."

"It's just too easy a way for animals like Larry Hutcherson," Pearce said. "That's not a punishment, in my opinion. They just go quietly to sleep."

Pearce said Hutcherson, who is awaiting an execution date, broke into her grandmother's house "and beat her so severely that almost every rib in her body was cracked. Then he cut her throat."

Lauridson said he understands the anger felt by relatives of murder victims, especially those who oppose the change in execution methods.

"The only two reasons for executions, as far as I can see, are revenge or deterrence," said Lauridson, who now works for the Montgomery law firm led by Jere Beasley. "I think those who object to lethal injections because they feel it's 'too easy' are looking for revenge."

Shehane, whose daughter, Quenette, was slain by three men in Birmingham on Dec. 20, 1976, waited more than 12 years for Wallace Norell Thomas to die for the crime. Thomas was convicted in 1978 but was not executed until 1990.

Two other men with Thomas when they abducted and raped the college student before killing her initially were sentenced to die, but eventually received reduced punishments.

"Mark my word," Shehane said, "people who are fighting the death penalty will say the lethal injection is inhumane now that the electric chair is being replaced."

Capital punishment has been an issue discussed by theologians for many years. Two Montgomery clergymen expressed their views on the subject Friday after attending a ceremony that honored Americans who died fighting for their country in Vietnam.

The Rev. David Tokarz said the Catholic church takes the position that capital punishment should not be imposed "unless it is demonstrably proved that it is the only way to secure the safety and security of the population."

"The catechism says that, given the circumstances of our system of incarceration, that is extremely unlikely," Tokarz said. "In principle and from the point of official teaching, I don't approve of capital punishment."

Rabbi Stephen Listfield, who recently became spiritual leader of Agudath Israel-Etz Ahayem, said his first concern was the "seeming injustices and patterns of injustice and discrimination in the way capital punishment takes place in our country."

"Before I would comment on specific methods of execution, I believe our country needs a more protracted dialogue and understanding about the way the ultimate punishment is being carried out," Listfield said.