Alabama to carry out first lethal injection after review of execution procedures

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Alabama Department of Corrections

This undated photo provided by the Alabama Department of Corrections shows James Barber. A federal appeals court on Wednesday, July 19, 2023, refused to stop Barber's upcoming execution in Alabama, rejecting his argument that the state has a history of botched lethal injections. Barber, 64, is scheduled to be put to death Thursday evening, July 20, at a south Alabama prison, in the first execution scheduled in the state since Gov. Kay Ivey paused them in November for an internal review. (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP)

ATMORE, Ala. – Alabama plans to execute an inmate Friday morning for the 2001 beating death of a woman, in what would be the first lethal injection since the state paused executions following a string of problems with inserting the IVs.

James Barber, 64, is scheduled to be put to death at a south Alabama prison. The U.S. Supreme Court denied Barber's request for a stay shortly after midnight and cleared the way for the execution to begin.

It is the first execution scheduled in the state since Gov. Kay Ivey paused executions in November to conduct an internal review after two lethal injections were called off because of difficulties inserting IVs into the condemned men’s veins.

Barber was convicted in the 2001 beating death of 75-year-old Dorothy Epps in Harvest, Alabama. Prosecutors said Barber, a handyman who knew Epps’ daughter, confessed to killing Epps with a claw hammer and fleeing with her purse. Jurors voted 11-1 to recommend a death sentence, which a judge imposed.

Barber’s scheduled execution comes hours after Oklahoma executed Jemaine Cannon for stabbing a Tulsa woman to death with a butcher knife in 1995 after his escape from a prison work center.

Barber's attorney's asked the Supreme Court to halt the execution, citing Alabama's recent problems.

Attorneys for inmate Alan Miller said prison staff poked him with needles for over an hour as they unsuccessfully tried to connect an IV line to him and at one point left him hanging vertically on a gurney during his aborted execution in September. State officials called off the November execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith after they were unsuccessful in connecting the second of two required lines.

Advocacy groups claimed a third execution, carried out in July after a delay because of IV problems, was botched because of multiple attempts to connect the line, a claim the state has disputed.

Ivey announced in February that the state was resuming executions. Alabama Corrections Commissioner John Hamm said prison system had added to its pool of medical professionals, ordered new equipment and conducted additional rehearsals.

Attorneys for Barber argued his execution “will likely be botched in the same manner as the prior three."

The Supreme Court denied Barber's request for a stay without comment. Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the decision in a writing joined by Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

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

The Alabama attorney general's office had urged the Supreme Court to let the execution proceed.

The state wrote that the previous executions were called off because of a “confluence of events—including health issues specific to the individual inmates and last-minute litigation brought by the inmates that dramatically shortened the window for ADOC officials to conduct the executions."

“Dorothy Epps, Smith’s victim, has survivors who have already waited overlong to see justice done,” the office added.

In the hours leading up to the scheduled execution, Barber had 22 visitors and two phone calls, a prison spokesperson said. Barber ate a final meal of loaded hashbrowns, western omelet, spicy sausage and toast.

One of the changes Alabama made following the internal review was to give the state more time to carry out executions. The Alabama Supreme Court did away with its customary midnight deadline to get an execution underway in order to give the state more time to establish an IV line and battle last-minute legal appeals. The state will have until 6 a.m. Friday to start Barber’s execution.