Alabama can’t decide if it’s ready to execute James Barber.
Barber, a death row inmate who is due to be killed on July 20, has asked to die by nitrogen hypoxia, a method of execution that has yet to be tested approved by the state in 2018. Last month, the United States Supreme Court sided with Kenneth Eugene Smith, another Alabama death row inmate who sought to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia , against the objections of the State.
Although a new execution date for Smith has not been set, officials announcement last month, Barber’s execution date was set for the summer of 2023. Barber was sentenced to death after being found guilty in the brutal 2001 death of 75-year-old Dorothy Epps.
The state attorney general’s office requests that the state be legally authorized to execute Barber by nitrogen hypoxia next month; however, the Alabama Department of Corrections insists the state is not ready yet and needs more time to prepare. The confusion is the latest controversy over state enforcement proceedings.
Barber is expected to be the first person executed in Alabama since the state’s governor imposed a moratorium on executions following a series of failed lethal injection attempts last year. However, Barber wants to die by nitrogen hypoxia – which involves suffocating the inmate in a gas chamber by increasing the proportion of nitrogen in the air – rather than by lethal injection, and has asked a federal court to overturn his execution by lethal injection so that he can be killed by the alternative method. Barber claimed he wanted to die by nitrogen hypoxia because it would be more humane than death by lethal injection, especially given the state’s recent record.
State officials have recently sent mixed messages about Alabama’s ability to carry out such an execution. In a court filing responding to Barber’s request, the Alabama Attorney General’s Office writing what should the U.S. District Court for the Intermediate District of Alabama on Barber’s side, “such an injunction should be limited in scope to allow Barber to be executed on July 20, 2023 by nitrogen hypoxia”.
However, a spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) clarified in an email to Al.com that the department was not ready to perform a nitrogen hypoxia run.
“The Alabama Department of Corrections has completed many of the preparations necessary to conduct nitrogen hypoxia executions,” the spokesperson continued. “The protocol for performing executions by this method is not yet complete. Once the nitrogen hypoxia protocol is completed, ADOC personnel will need sufficient time to be fully trained before an execution can be performed using this method.”
It’s unclear from the state’s mixed messages whether Alabama will try to kill Barber by nitrogen hypoxia next month, if he wins his federal lawsuit. However, the mixed messages from the state are hardly surprising.
Alabama posted a chaotic response after several sloppy executions last year. As Governor Kay Ivey (R) has called for a moratorium on the executions in November, pending an investigation into the state’s lethal injection procedures, the state has not released its internal audit. ADOC officials made vague promises increase the number of employees available for executions and repeat the process. At the same time, Ivey succeeded asked the Alabama Supreme Court to allow attempted executions over an extended period rather than a specific day, allowing officials to attempt executions for hours or days.