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Alabama Carries Out First Execution Since Pause After Supreme Court Declines to Intervene

The Supreme Court early Friday morning allowed Alabama to move forward with its first lethal injection since the state paused executions last year over concerns about the procedure.

Convicted murderer James Barber, 64, was pronounced dead at 2:56 a.m. ET, according to the state’s Department of Corrections, nearly two hours after the justices rejected Barber’s emergency request to halt the execution.

The court denied Barber’s request over the public dissents of the court’s three liberals, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson, who said Alabama was using Barber as its “guinea pig.”

After the state experienced issues securing the necessary IV access in three lethal injections last year, two of which were canceled, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) paused executions and ordered a “top-to-bottom” review.

Alabama then added new personnel to the IV team and expanded the time frame the prison system has to complete an execution. 

But attorneys for Barber, who was convicted of murdering 75-year-old Dorothy Epps in 2001 by beating her to death with a claw hammer, cast doubt that the changes solved the previous issues. 

“None of these ‘changes’ constitute serious efforts to fix Respondents’ pattern of botched execution after botched execution,” Barber’s attorneys wrote to the justices.

His attorneys claimed Barber’s Eighth Amendment rights, which protect against cruel and unusual punishment, were likely to be violated if the execution was allowed to move ahead.

“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 in her dissent, joined by Kagan and Jackson. “The Eighth Amendment demands more than the State’s word that this time will be different.”

The Supreme Court rarely grants death-row inmates’ bids to halt their executions. Fifteen people have now been executed so far this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The majority applied to the Supreme Court for emergency review, with most requests being denied.

Both the district court and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had sided with Alabama in Barber’s attempt to stop his execution, finding no likely violation of his Eighth Amendment rights.

“Obtaining intravenous access is a common procedure that is unquestionably necessary to the state’s interest in carrying out lawful executions,” the state wrote to the justices.

“Barber would have this Court grant certiorari on a claim that an IV team who had the appropriate licenses, certifications, and experience might have difficulty accessing his veins so that multiple sticks were required,” it continued. “But embracing Barber’s standard would effectively bar any lethal injection execution, as well has calling into question innumerable other situations where IV access must be obtained in a carceral setting.”

The state had also argued Barber’s request should be denied because he unreasonably delayed bringing his claim. 

Barber filed his lawsuit on May 25, roughly three weeks after the Alabama Supreme Court permitted Ivey, the governor, to set the time period for Barber’s execution.

Previously, prison officials were given a singular day to execute a death-row inmate, setting up a midnight deadline for the lethal executions to be completed. But after the state’s review, the governor is now granted the ability to set a longer time period.

After losing in the 11th Circuit on Wednesday, Barber, just hours before his scheduled execution, filed his emergency request with the justices earlier on Thursday.

Barber’s attorneys said in court filings the timeline was “entirely the making” of Alabama, noting that Ivey scheduled Thursday’s execution date five days after Barber filed the lawsuit.

“Mr. Barber did not lie in wait with his claim in an attempt to interrupt a scheduled execution. Rather, Mr. Barber brought this lawsuit as soon as possible, in order to be executed on this date by the readily alternative method of nitrogen hypoxia,” his attorneys wrote.

The Alabama Department of Corrections said in a statement that Barber had 22 visitors and two phone calls on Thursday. He refused to eat breakfast, ate snacks, drank beverages and ate a final meal of loaded hash browns, a western omelet, spicy sausage and white toast.

Source : The Hill