ATMORE, Ala. − Alabama executed James Edward Barber by lethal injection early Friday morning under new protocols − which included a longer window of time to access veins and perform the execution − after a divided US Supreme Court issued a decision just after midnight allowing the state to proceed.
Barber, 64, was convicted in 2003 of capital murder by a Madison County jury in the May 20, 2001, beating and stabbing death of 75-year-old Dorothy “Dottie” Epps of Harvest. Barber was also charged with robbery in the case. He was a handyman and former boyfriend of Epps’ daughter and had done work in Dorothy Epps’ home.
It took staff “three sticks in six minutes,” to gain access to veins for the two intravenous lines used, said Department of Corrections Commissioner John Hamm in a press conference shortly after the execution. The first “stick” didn’t work and the other two did, he said. One IV line carried a sedative and the other carried the lethal dose.
Hamm said he was satisfied with how personnel handled the execution.
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The barber made a statement before he was executed. “To the Epps family, let them know that I love them.” he said. “Tell them I’m sorry for what happened. Tell my family I love them.
“To the governor and everyone in this room, in the words of my lord and savior Jesus, I forgive you for what you are about to do.”
He was declared dead at 1:56 am Friday.
Five media witnesses were led into the witness room at 1:21 am Barber had three witnesses in the room. There was a large, square window in the room, with drapes drawn from inside the death chamber.
The drapes were opened at 1:30 am He laid on the gurney in cruciform fashion, strapped in and covered with a white sheet. He appeared to be wearing a khaki, short-sleeved shirt. There were two IV lines coming from a small square hole in the death chamber wall, with one line leading to Barber’s right hand. The location of the other IV line could not be seen.
Holman Correctional Facility Warden Terry Raybon read the death warrant. The Barber’s spiritual advisor was in the room with him and approached the gurney at Barber’s feet. The two appeared to pray for a short time, then Barber looked around the death chamber and towards the witness room and cracked a smile toward his advisor.
His eyes closed at 1:37 am and he took several deep breaths. He appeared to stop breathing at 1:43 am The drapes were drawn at 1:47 am and witnesses were ushered out at 1:51 am
The setting in the death chamber was clinical. Witnesses sat in a dimly-lit concrete block room that smelled of disinfectant. A sign above the window read “Stay Seated and Quiet.”
First execution since ‘top-to-bottom’ procedural review
It was the state’s first execution since Gov. Kay Ivey issued a moratorium last year and called for a “top-to-bottom” review of procedures. The state’s failure to execute Kenneth Eugene Smith in November was the third time in a row that the Alabama Department of Corrections execution team had problems accessing the veins of inmates during lethal injection.
Joe Nathan James Jr. was executed in July of 2022, but the process took three hours. In September the execution of Alan Eugene Miller failed after attempts to establish an IV line failed after about an hour and a half of effort. The executions of Smith and Miller were called off after the death warrants expired. Their executions have not been rescheduled.
That review ended in February and in May the state set the execution date for Barber. Neither Ivey nor the state’s DOC have commented on any findings from the moratorium.
The changes included switching the team in charge of the execution process and extending the amount of time the state had to perform the execution. The governor’s warrant gave Alabama 30 hours instead of the usual 24 for the execution to be carried out, presumably to give the execution team more time to establish an IV in Barber to accept the lethal cocktail that would end his life.
US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing on behalf of the three liberal justices who were dissented, said the state “has failed to produce any evidence that it has been identified or remedied” its problems with recent execution attempts. Sotomayor wrote that the court’s decision to clear the way for Barber’s execution “allows Alabama to experiment again with a human life.”
In a statement issued minutes after Barber’s time of death, Ivey described how Barber “brutally and gruesomely” killed Epps. “Tonight, the justice that James Barber managed to avoid for more than two decades has finally been served,” Ivey said in the statement. “… His litany of appeals to delay justice has finally come to an end, and Mr. Barber has answered for his horrendous crime. In Alabama, we will always work to enforce the law and uphold justice.”
Those who witnessed the execution on behalf of the victim declined through the Alabama Department of Corrections officials to comment to the media. There were three witnesses at the execution for Barber, including his brother Glen Barber, friend Elizabeth Bruenig, and one of his attorneys, Mara Rose Easterbrook Klebaner.
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Marty Roney at [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Alabama execution: James Edward Barber executed in 2001 killing