Witness to execution: Don’t return to ‘Yellow Mama’

Published 12:48 am Wednesday, May 7, 2014

When a legislative session ends, there is often as much controversy over what was not passed as there is over what was, and that seems to have been the case this year in Alabama as it relates to how we execute prisoners.

The issue is this: Since 2002, Alabama has carried out death sentences using lethal injection, which is widely considered to be a more humane method of execution than the electric chair – a device nicknamed the Yellow Mama in Alabama and used for years at Holman Prison in Atmore prior to the switch. Now, the state has run out of the drug pentobarbital, the sedative used as part of the three-drug “cocktail” administered during lethal injections. During the 2014 legislative session, a bill aimed at encouraging the manufacturing of the drug was shot down, which could open the door to the state switching back to the infamous Yellow Mama.

For two years prior to coming to The Star-News, I worked at The Atmore Advance. I also grew up in Atmore, and executions were always on the periphery of our collective conscious. People would jokingly ask “Do the lights blink during executions?” when they found out you were from Atmore. It is no laughing matter.

Obviously, the lights did not blink, but lives were extinguished just miles outside of town. I have been inside Holman on numerous occasions; I have also witnessed an execution. It’s very sad. No matter what heinous crime the condemned committed, to watch another human life end is terrible; it’s heart wrenching; at the very least, it shouldn’t be inhumane.

And I think that was the sentiment Gov. Bentley was trying to express earlier this week when he acknowledged the necessity of the death penalty, but said he did not intend to switch back to the electric chair. Bentley said his office will be in contact with prison officials in order to seek out an alternative way to perform lethal injections.

Personally, I’m in favor of the death penalty. The term “necessary evil” may seem cliché, but it also seems appropriate.

I’m also in favor of it being done as painlessly as possible. This is supposed to be justice; it’s not supposed to be vengeance. I think the governor is right on this one.