Alabama to resume executions in July, advocates push back
James Barber will be Alabama’s first death row inmate set for execution since last year.
Governor Kay Ivey announced on Tuesday that Barber’s execution will begin on July 20 and expire the next day. Barber was convicted for murder in 2001 and placed on death row three years later.
The Alabama Supreme Court approved Attorney General Steve Marshall’s execution request for Barber last month. It comes after the state Department of Correction’s three-month internal review on faulty and canceled executions. Governor Ivey also announced new rules that allow her to choose an execution date and time. These rules go beyond the single day timeframe previously required for death sentences.
Barber’s lawyers informed the DOC on Monday that he would like to die by nitrogen suffocation. But this form of execution is untested and was not approved. Barber is set to die by lethal injection.
Mike Nicholson is a policy analyst with Alabama Arise, an organization that advocates for public policy that supports marginalized Alabamians. He said Barber’s decision is proof that the state needs to reform its execution practices.
“Using an untested method of execution is just one of many reasons why I think as a state we need to slow down and look at how we’re executing people,” he said. “It just feels like [Alabama] is more interested in executing people than making sure we’re doing it in a humane and just way.”
Other advocacy groups like Alabama NAACP, ACLU of Alabama and the Southern Poverty Law Center have called for change. And Alabama Democratic Representative Chris England presented a death penalty reform bill before the House Judiciary Committee last Wednesday. If passed, England’s House Bill 14 would require unanimous jury verdicts for all death sentences and re-sentencing for death row inmates. Alabama and Florida are the only two states that do not require unanimous jury verdicts for death sentences.
Nicholson said he is hopeful for long-term reform, but he does not expect immediate change to come. “I’m hopeful that members of the legislature took that testimony to heart,” he said. “I don’t have high hopes for the bill this session just because we’re so close to the end [of this legislative session]. But I am hopeful that it will start a dialogue. And that next year, a similar bill will be filed, and a similar conversation will be had.”
And it is not just current politicians commenting on the state’s recent decisions. Former Governors Robert Bentley and Don Siegelman criticized Alabama’s execution practices in an op-ed written for The Washington Post last week.
Bentley and Siegelman call for all 146 inmates whose death sentences were not imposed by unanimous juries to have their sentences commuted. Nicholson agrees.
“I definitely agree,” he said. “I think that whether it’s someone who was sentenced by a judge who overruled a jury or whether it was a jury who was non-unanimous, I think both of those are good indicators that the decision was put into the hands of everyday citizens just like us and they weren’t sure. And if they’re not sure about whether we should take someone’s life, then we shouldn’t.”
Alabama Arise also advocates for an external review of state execution practices and state funding for inmates hoping to appeal their death sentences.