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Alabama executes first inmate in months following botched attempts

Alabama executed death row inmate James Barber early Friday for the 2001 murder of an elderly woman. Photo courtesy of Alabama Department of Corrections
Alabama executed death row inmate James Barber early Friday for the 2001 murder of an elderly woman. Photo courtesy of Alabama Department of Corrections

July 21 (UPI) -- The state of Alabama executed death row inmate James Barber early Friday after the Supreme Court denied his last-minute request for a stay on the grounds that the state had botched its last two previous attempts to fulfill a death by lethal injection sentence.

Barber was executed at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Ala., for the 2001 capital murder of Dorothy Epps early Friday in the presence of attorneys Mara Rose Easterbrook Klebaner and John Gallo, friend Elizabeth Bruenig and brother, Glen Barber.

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He was pronounced deceased by a physician at 1:56 a.m., the State of Alabama Department of Corrections told UPI in a statement.

Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall cleared the execution to commence at 1:34 a.m., after the conservative-leaning Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to deny his appeal, with liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson dissenting.

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The Supreme Court did not publish an opinion in allowing the execution to go forward but Sotomayor penned a dissent, blasting the decision to execute Barber without further scrutiny of Alabama's investigation to the previous botched executions.

"Alabama plans to kill him by lethal injection in a matter of hours, without ever allowing him discovery into what went wrong in the three prior executions and whether the state has fixed those problems," Sotomayor wrote.

"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 accused her conservative colleagues of making the speed of Barber's execution more valuable that his rights or the law.

"This court has so prioritized expeditious execution that it has disregarded well-reasoned lower court conclusions, preventing both the meaningful airing of prisoners' challenges and the development of Eighth Amendment law."

The state said prior to his execution that Barber had a final meal of loaded hash browns, a Western omelet, spicy sausage and white toast after having refused breakfast and ate snacks and drank beverages during the day.

He also had 22 visitors and made two phone calls throughout Thursday, the state said.

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"To the Epps family, I love them," Barber said in a brief final statement, Al.com reported. "I'm sorry for what happened. I regret it.

"No words fit."

Marshall issued a statement shortly after Barber was executed stating "justice has been served."

"This morning, James Barber was put to death for the terrible crime he committed over two decades ago: the especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel murder of Dorothy Epps," he said.

"I ask the people of Alabama to join me in praying for the victim's family and friends, that they might now be able to find some sense of peace and closure."

Barber's execution is the state's first since Gov. Kay Ivey ordered a "top-to-bottom review" of the state's execution protocols after halting the executions of Alan Eugene Miller in September due to issues accessing his veins and Kenneth Eugene Smith the next month for similarly being unable to administer the lethal injection before the warrant expired.

The state also executed Joe James in July of last year in what is regarded as one of the nation's longest executions at some three hours and an autopsy showing evidence of repeated puncture wounds.

The 64-year-old death row inmate had pointed to these three consecutive botched executions in his ask of the nation's highest court for a stay of his own, arguing that the method would "very likely ... cause him needless pain and suffering."

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Alabama Department of Correction Commissioner John G. Hamm told reporters during a brief press conference following the execution that there were "three sticks" of Barber "in six minutes" to secure the two intravenous lines that delivered the fatal cocktail.

Asked if he was satisfied with how the execution was carried out, Hamm replied: "Absolutely."

"It was carried out extremely well."

Barber was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering Epps at her Harvest, Ala., home in the process of stealing her purse on May 20, 2021.

He knew her, had dated her daughter and had been hired to do repair work on her house, so it is believed that when he knocked on her door that night, the 75-year-old woman let him in.

According to the Alabama attorney general, Barber attacked Epps with his fists and a claw hammer, resulting in her suffering multiple skull fractures, head lacerations and other injuries.

Following the murder, Barber stole her purse and fled the scene only to be arrested days later and he confessed to the crime.

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