State begins lethal injections
By By ROBBIE BYRD, News Editor
It only took them two months to build, and in only a matter of days, officials will put it to the test.
Its counterpart has been retired for what Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Mike Haley said may be "a long while."
The smell of fresh paint fills the hallways and the bright white walls only add to the hospital-like feel of the small room.
And the space where "Yellow Mama," the state's electric chair, used to sit has been occupied by a hospital gurney.
With the equipment, facilities and renovations complete, Haley said the next execution scheduled for Oct. 17 will take place by lethal injection.
The DOC opened the newly renovated death chamber Monday to members of the media for viewing.
The room, Holman Correctional Center Warden Grantt Culliver said, is very different than the one before it.
Haley said he was proud of the facility as well.
While costing roughly $185,000 to renovate, Culliver said inmate labor was used to shave off some of the costs.
The money for the project was pulled from other DOC projects. Pulling those funds were not stopped by Montgomery Circuit Judge William Shashy who had bottlenecked some of the DOC's plans for improvements in operation, Haley said.
The DOC plans to replace the funds pulled from other projects with a part of the $2.4 million the City of Atmore plans to hand over.
Atmore has agreed to purchase 410 acres south of I-65 along Hwy. 21 from the DOC. The sale has not yet been finalized.
One of the biggest changes, Haley said, was the transition from the normal 12 a.m. death time to 6 p.m.
Haley said the move has no negative effects on the process, but makes it more convenient for family members, witnesses and staff.
Haley said this was another idea garnered from Texas.
Haley, Culliver, John Jacobs, head of the DOC's Research, Development and Evaluation department, and several other state officials visited the Huntsville, Texas Death Row facility.
Glen Castleberry, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Justice, said the state uses the same protocol for drugs that most states use, however he could not confirm the cocktail of drugs is the same the Alabama DOC has adopted.
Once both IV's are inserted in the inmate, a saline solution is inserted, followed by sodium phiopental, another saline solution, pancuromium bromide, a final saline shot and a dosage of pottassium chloride.
All drugs are administered at 60 cc volume.
Dr. Lacey Lee, an Atmore veterinarian who said she performs euthanasia on a "fairly regular basis," agrees that the cocktail would be an effective means to kill a person.
However she said she is familiar with how the drugs work.
Sodium Phiopental, Lee said, is used as an anesthetic. It's used as an "induction agent," and basically puts the inmate to sleep.
Pancuromium Bromide is used to paralyze the respiratory system, causing the diaphragm to completely relax causing the inmate to stop breathing, Lee said.
The last drug in the cocktail, pottassium chloride finishes the execution by paralyzing the heart.
Lee agreed that 60 cc of each drug would be a substantial amount of drugs to kill a human being.
Culliver, according to state law, will administer the three drugs along with the saline solutions from a control room directly behind the chamber.
The injections must be delivered separately and the lines cleaned out with saline solution after each drug injection, otherwise the chemicals could become erosive and damage the IV lines, Culliver said.
After Culliver is convinced the inmate is dead, a doctor is called in to declare the inmate dead. The body is then transferred to the Alabama Department of Forensic Science for an autopsy.
In preparation for the new facility, DOC officials took stock of how several states correction facilities carried out the lethal injection sentence.
The result of touring other facilities gave the team who designed and constructed the room a better understanding of what works and how to provide the best experience under the worst circumstances.
The viewing rooms each have a private restroom and air conditioning.
The "death chamber," the room housing the gurney, and the holding cell have been expanded as well. The "48-hour" cell, where prisoners are placed before the execution is carried out, now includes a private shower so that inmates can "get a shower and fresh set of clothes before they are executed," Culliver said.
Just behind the gurney are the connector panels for "Yellow Mama," which are required to be in place in the event an inmate requests to die by electrocution.
Brian Corbett, a spokesperson for the DOC, said his department had nothing to do with the introduction, drafting or passing of the bill that executes inmates.
The bill states that all executions following July 1, 2002 be administered by lethal injection unless the inmate requests otherwise. Those sentenced to the death penalty after July 1 would no longer have a choice, Haley said.
This leaves Nebraska as the only state with the electric chair as its primary method of execution.
The bill passed through the state Senate earlier this year. The state House also approved the bill with an 86-0 vote.
Just behind the gurney lies the execution box – a simple electrical panel with three buttons: an orange power button, a red stop button and a solemnly black execute button.
Haley said the chair had been placed in the prison's "attic" for storage. When the chair is no longer needed, Haley said the Alabama Department of Archives and History will have the first right to the relic.
For more than 75 years, electrocution has served as Alabama's only means of execution. In 1923, legislation provided for state-performed executions to be carried out by electrocution. Prior to 1923, executions were the responsibility of the counties.
On April 8, 1927, the state's electric chair was used for the first time for the execution of Horace DeVaughn. Since then, Alabama has executed 177 people. Alabama's most recent execution was on May 10, when convicted murderer Lynda Lyon Block was electrocuted.
In 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional and all executions were halted. In 1983, the Supreme Court reversed itself and allowed states to reinstitute the death penalty. There are currently 189 inmates on death row in Alabama.
The next scheduled execution is set for Oct. 17.
Donald Dallas, who was convicted in 1995 on a kidnapping and murder charge in Montgomery, will be the first to die by lethal injection.