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2007-07-17

The Execution Tapes: Georgia’s Secret Audio Recordings of Two Executions

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In 2001, radio producer Dave Isay released "The Execution Tapes," 19 recordings of electrocutions carried out by the state of Georgia since 1984. They remain the only recordings of executions in the United States. They were recorded internally by the Georgia Department of Corrections as a secret official record of the executions. [includes rush transcript]

The case of Troy Anthony Davis has renewed debate over issues of the death penalty and race in this country. But it’s not the first time the controversy has come out of Georgia’s prison system. In 2001, radio producer Dave Isay released "The Execution Tapes," nineteen recordings of the 23 electrocutions carried out by the state of Georgia since 1984. They remain the only recordings of executions in the United States. They were recorded internally by the Georgia Department of Corrections as a secret official record of the executions.

Today, we will hear two of the recordings. We begin with the execution of Ivon Ray Stanley, electrocuted on July 12, 1984. Stanley was convicted of being an accomplice, but not the trigger man, in the murder of an insurance salesman. The man convicted for the direct killing had his death sentence commuted to life in prison. Ivon Ray Stanley had an IQ of sixty-two

What follows is a recording of a phone conversation between top corrections officials in Atlanta and the prison personnel in a room next to the death chamber. The main speaker is Willis Marable, an assistant to the warden at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, Georgia, where all of the state’s executions are carried out. Listen carefully.

  • Audiotape of the Execution of Ivon Ray Stanley on July 12, 1984

We turn now to another recording from "The Execution Tapes." Alpha Otis O’Daniel Stephens was killed by electrocution on December 12, 1984. His was a so-called "botched execution" because it took more than one attempt to take his life. Stephens remained alive after the initial two-minute jolt to his body. He was electrocuted again after doctors pronounced him still alive following a six-minute pause. The total execution took more than twenty minutes. The recording is made from inside the death chamber. Again, listen carefully.

  • Audiotape of the Execution of Alpha Otis O’Daniel Stephens on December 12, 1984

That was a recording from the execution of Alpha Otis O’Daniel Stephens. The execution actually lasted more than twenty minutes. To hear the full recordings from "The Execution Tapes", go to Dave Isay’s website at SoundPortraits.org

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The case of Anthony Troy Davis has renewed debate over issues of the death penalty and race in this country, but it’s not the first time the controversy has come out of Georgia’s prison system. In 2001, radio producer Dave Isay released "The Execution Tapes," nineteen recordings of the twenty-three electrocutions carried out by the State of Georgia since 1984. They remain the only recordings of executions in the United States that we know of. They were recorded internally by the Georgia Department of Corrections as a secret official record of the executions.

Today, we’ll hear two of the recordings. We begin with the execution of Ivon Ray Stanley, electrocuted July 12, 1984. Stanley was convicted of being an accomplice, but not the triggerman, in the murder of an insurance salesman. The man convicted for the direct killing had his death sentence commuted to life in prison. Ivon Ray Stanley had an IQ of sixty-two.

What follows is a recording of a phone conversation between top corrections officials in Atlanta and the prison personnel in a room next to the death chamber. The main speaker is Willis Marable, an assistant to the warden at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, Georgia, where all the state’s executions are carried out. Listen carefully.

WILLIS MARABLE: This is a recording of the execution of Ivon Ray Stanley, EF103603, July the 12th, 1984. Colonel Low, Micky?

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Yes.

WILLIS MARABLE: The witnesses are now entering the witness room.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: OK.

WILLIS MARABLE: The state witnesses have entered the witness room and have seated themselves on the front row. At this time, the news media witnesses are entering. All witnesses have arrived and have seated.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Let’s proceed. We can proceed if you’re ready.

WILLIS MARABLE: Colonel Low, Mickey, the warden has entered the execution chamber at this time, approaching the microphone and is in the process of briefing all witnesses to remain quiet and to avoid any unnecessary movement. He is also advising them that medical assistance is available if needed. The warden at this time is in the process of confirming all witnesses. All witnesses have been confirmed. The warden is in the process of advising all witnesses that we will now proceed with the court-ordered execution of Ivon Stanley. Mickey, Colonel Low?

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Yes.

WILLIS MARABLE: We’re still waiting for the execution team members to bring him into the execution chamber.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: We’ll just stand by and keep [inaudible].

WILLIS MARABLE: Colonel Low, Mickey?

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Yes.

WILLIS MARABLE: The execution team is now in the process of escorting the condemned into the execution chamber. He is walking, unassisted, walked straight to the chair and has seated himself in it. One of the execution team members is now in the process of securing the back strap. The other members are in the process of securing the arm straps and leg straps. The back strap is secure at this time. Both arm straps are secure at this time. They are still in the process of securing the leg straps. At this time, the condemned has been secured in the chair. He is not moving. He is just sitting there very passively, staring out at the witnesses.

The superintendent has afforded the condemned an opportunity to make a last statement. He has declined to make a last statement.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Are you ready to die now?

WILLIS MARABLE: He is afforded the opportunity for prayer. He declined this also. The warden is now in the process of reading the essential court order to the witnesses and to the condemned.

RALPH KEMP: The court has [inaudible] the defendant Ivon Ray Stanley on the 15th of January, 1977, in accordance to the laws of Georgia.

WILLIS MARABLE: The condemned is still sitting there very passively, no movement, staring out to the witnesses. The superintendent is still in the process of reading the court order to the condemned. At this time, the superintendent has completed reading the essential court order.

The execution team members are now entering the execution chamber with the headset and the leg band. One member is in the process of securing the leg band to the fleshy part of the inmate’s right leg. Two members of the execution team is in the process of securing the headset to the condemned. The condemned has offered no resistance throughout. He’s just sitting there very passively, not moving. The leg band has been secured to the condemned’s right leg, and also the headset has been secured to his head.

Perspiration is now being wiped from the forehead of the condemned, and he is secure and ready for execution, with the exception of the hood being placed over his head and the wires being attached to the leg band and to the headset. The electrician now has entered the execution chamber and is in the process of securing the wire to the headset.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: They’re moving very well. It’s a good time to do it right now. Marable?

WILLIS MARABLE: Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Stand still. Mickey, put William Hill on.

WILLIAM HILL: Hello?

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: William, OK. [inaudible].

WILLIAM HILL: OK.

MICHAEL BOWERS: Bill, it’s Mike. Have you got any reason why the execution shouldn’t be carried out?

WILLIAM HILL: No, I don’t.

MICHAEL BOWERS: Thank you.

WILLIAM HILL: Alright.

WILLIS MARABLE: Colonel Low?

COLONEL LOW: Yes.

WILLIS MARABLE: Mickey, the wires have been attached and secured to the headset and to the leg band. The perspiration has been wiped again from the condemned’s forehead and the hood is being placed on at this time. The face hood has been secured. The warden and all the execution team members have departed the execution chamber. Stand by for the warden’s last telephone check.

COLONEL LOW: Ralph, this is the commissioner.

RALPH KEMP: Yes, sir.

COLONEL LOW: There are no stays. You can proceed to carry out the official order of the court.

RALPH KEMP: Very well. On my count of three, press your buttons. One, two, three.

WILLIS MARABLE: Colonel Low?

COLONEL LOW: Yes.

WILLIS MARABLE: Mickey? The execution is now in progress. They — when the first surge entered his body, he stiffened, and I heard a pop, as if one of the straps broke, but I can’t tell from this vantage point. He is still at this time sitting there with clinched fists, with no other movement. He’s slowly relaxing at this time. The first phase of the execution is completed.

We are now entering the second phase. The second phase is completed at this time. We are now into the third and final stage. From my vantage point, it seems that the inmate has relaxed somewhat. His fists are still clinched, but there is no movement from the condemned. There is still no movement from the individual. He’s still just sitting there.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Is the third phase completed?

WILLIS MARABLE: We’re still into the third phase. Third phase and execution is completed. We’re now into the five minutes lapse time. It appeared when the execution was completed and the power was off, he relaxed somewhat more than he was. It was pretty visible that he relaxed even more than what it seemed before.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Any reaction from the witnesses?

WILLIS MARABLE: They’re sitting very still, just observing. I see one or two of the media writing notes, taking notes, but other than that, they’re just sitting, staring into the execution chamber. Colonel Low, Mickey?

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Yes.

WILLIS MARABLE: We have now completed two minutes of the five minutes lapse time. There’s still no — very little movement from any of the witnesses. No one even taking notes at this time. They’re just sitting there staring into the execution chamber.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Are we about ready to go in?

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: We’ve got a few more seconds.

WILLIS MARABLE: Colonel Low, Mickey? We have now completed five minutes lapse time. Stand by for the — the doctors are now preparing to enter the execution chamber to check for life signs. The first physician has completed his examination. The second is now in the process of making his check. The second doctor has now completed his examination. The third and final doctor is in the process of making his check. The examination is completed. Stand by for the superintendent’s time of death and confirmation of death.

SUPERINTENDENT: Approximately 12:24, July the 12th, 1984, the court-ordered execution of Ivon Ray Stanley is carried out.

WILLIS MARABLE: The superintendent has advised all witnesses that death did occur at 12:24 this date. He has instructed all witnesses to depart the witness room and to be transported back to the front of the institution. Curtains are drawn at this time. Colonel Low, Mickey?

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Yes.

WILLIS MARABLE: That completes it.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Marable, see if you can find what that snap, pop, that you were talking about a while ago.

WILLIS MARABLE: I think it was just the electricity arc. I don’t think any strap broke or anything. He just jerked real hard and caused the electricity to arc.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: OK.

WILLIS MARABLE: Now, the electrician is now in the process of taking the wire from the headset. They have removed the hood, the face hood, and are in the process now of taking or removing the headset. The headset has been removed. The electrician is now in the process of removing the electrical wire from the leg band. The electrical wire has been removed from the condemned’s right leg. He is being removed from the electric chair at this time and being placed on the stretcher. He is being removed from the execution chamber at this time, and the execution team members are taking him to the autopsy room. That’s all I can see, Colonel Low.

COLONEL LOW: Is the warden available?

WILLIS MARABLE: Just a minute.

RALPH KEMP: Hello?

COLONEL LOW: You and your staff did an excellent job. We appreciate it very much.

RALPH KEMP: OK. We had a little bit of a scare. I don’t know if they relayed it to you or not, that —

COLONEL LOW: Pop.

RALPH KEMP: The popping sound.

COLONEL LOW: Yes.

RALPH KEMP: We were thinking what happened, because he sat there for that three minutes, that the water in the sponge on his leg ran out — by his foot, rather, by his foot. And we’re thinking that it was just like a little bolt of lightning.

COLONEL LOW: Did you see anything?

RALPH KEMP: No. They said, Colonel Hardison and the other people in the witness room said they didn’t see anything like that. Now, I still feel good about it, really.

COLONEL LOW: It ran too smooth, Ralph, but don’t screw it up next time.

RALPH KEMP: OK.

COLONEL LOW: Mike Bowers wants to say something now.

RALPH KEMP: OK.

MICHAEL BOWERS: Ralph, this is Mike. I second what Dave said. Very smooth job.

RALPH KEMP: OK. We appreciate it. Just give us another one.

COLONEL LOW: Marable?

RALPH KEMP: Just a second, Colonel.

WILLIS MARABLE: Colonel Low?

COLONEL LOW: Marable?

WILLIS MARABLE: Yes, sir.

COLONEL LOW: I want to thank you.

WILLIS MARABLE: You’re quite welcome, sir. Anytime.

COLONEL LOW: Good night.

WILLIS MARABLE: Good night, sir.

AMY GOODMAN: A tape recording of the execution of Ivon Ray Stanley, killed by electrocution July 12, 1984. His IQ, sixty-two.

Next, we’re going to play the recording of a botched execution, but first we turn back now to our guest in Atlanta, Chris Adams, director of the Georgia Capital Defender, a public office providing representation and support in death penalty cases. As you listened to this, Chris, these tapes secret for a long time, made by the state of Georgia, furious that these tapes were let out to the public, acquired by a lawyer who worked on death penalty cases named Michael Mears. David Isay, the well-known Public Radio producer, got the execution tapes and had them played. Well, NPR nationally wouldn’t play them, but together with WNYC they released the tapes, and on Democracy Now! we also spent an hour. This was in 2001. But, Chris, the significance of this tape, when it came to electrocution in Georgia?

CHRIS ADAMS: What happened is the court had been struggling with — Georgia was one of the last states that used execution as a method — electrocution as a method of execution. And these tapes, when they came out, that pretty much did away, and our state supreme court declared that this was cruel and unusual punishment. And the State of Georgia then shifted to lethal injection, which has worked equally as barbarically as electrocution did.

AMY GOODMAN: Who determined that lethal injection is less barbaric than electrocution?

CHRIS ADAMS: I think there was a national movement to try to eliminate people from our society at the hands of the government in a more humane way, and lethal injection became the law in many states, including Texas and other places. And Georgia shifted around 2000 and 2001 to lethal injection.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris Adams of Georgia Capital Defender. We’re now going to go to the second tape. We turn to the tape recording from "The Execution Tapes." Alpha Otis O’Daniel Stephens was killed by electrocution on December 12, 1984. His was a so-called "botched" execution, because it took more than one attempt to take his life. Stephens remained alive after the initial two-minute jolt to his body. He was electrocuted again after doctors pronounced him still alive following a six-minute pause. The total execution took more than twenty minutes. This recording was made from inside the death chamber. Again, listen carefully.

UNIDENTIFIED: Carry out the execution by the order of the court. There’s no reason to delay.

UNIDENTIFIED: Very well. On my count of three, press your buttons. One, two, three.

WILLIS MARABLE: The execution now has begun. There was one small jerk from the condemned at the time the execution was initiated. He is sitting very still now, and we are also now into the second phase of the execution. We are now into the third phase of the execution. No movement from the condemned. No activity, no movement from the witnesses. He appears to be relaxing a little bit more now. There’s sixty seconds remaining on the third phase of the execution. There is a slight movement from the condemned’s head. He seems to be moving his head from side to side slightly.

UNIDENTIFIED: I show the time is 12:19.

WILLIS MARABLE: Commissioner, he is still moving his head, and he seems to have slumped down in a relaxing-type position in the chair. But his head is moving from side to side slightly. Commissioner, Mr. Low, the execution is completed at this time. The electrical panel box is secured and locked. I do not detect any movement from the condemned at this time. He seems to have stopped moving his head and also his arms.

UNIDENTIFIED: I show the time is 12:20.

UNIDENTIFIED: You are in the lapse time countdown, is that correct?

WILLIS MARABLE: Yes, sir. We’re into the first minute of the lapse time now. No movement from any of the witnesses, and at this time no movement from the condemned. We have now completed one minute of lapsed time, four minutes remaining. Two minutes of lapsed time completed at this time, three minutes remaining. Still very little movement from any of the witnesses, and I detect no movement from the condemned at this time.

UNIDENTIFIED: I show the time is 12:22.

WILLIS MARABLE: Commissioner?

COMMISSIONER: Yes?

WILLIS MARABLE: Mr. Low?

COLONEL LOW: Yes.

WILLIS MARABLE: There is some slight movement. He’s still moving his head slightly. The only thing we can do is continue until the physicians can check him after the lapse time has expired.

COLONEL LOW: Don’t vary from your checklist.

WILLIS MARABLE: OK, sir. OK, we have completed three minutes of lapsed time, two minutes remaining. Commissioner? Mr. Low?

COLONEL LOW: Yes.

WILLIS MARABLE: He is still moving his head slightly, kind of a bobbing up-and-down movement. Commissioner?

COMMISSIONER: Yes.

WILLIS MARABLE: Mr. Low? We have completed four minutes of lapsed time. We have one minute remaining. And from my vantage point I do detect or it seems to be that he is breathing. Commissioner? Mr. Low? We have completed the five minutes lapsed time. Stand by for the physicians’ check. Commissioner?

COMMISSIONER: Yes?

WILLIS MARABLE: It appears the doctors agree with me that he’s still breathing. You want us to check him and then go through it again, or just go ahead and go through it again?

COMMISSIONER: Check him, and then go through it again. Definitely check him. Don’t vary from the checklist.

WILLIS MARABLE: Alright.

COMMISSIONER: Have them check him.

WILLIS MARABLE: OK. [inaudible] We’re going to do it again?

UNIDENTIFIED: It doesn’t say so.

WILLIS MARABLE: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED: It remains on.

WILLIS MARABLE: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED: The time is 12:26 and thirty seconds.

WILLIS MARABLE: Commissioner?

COMMISSIONER: Yes.

WILLIS MARABLE: The doctors have verified that he is still alive.

COMMISSIONER: Repeat the execution.

WILLIS MARABLE: Very well. You ready to go again?

COMMISSIONER: Better check all the connections. Val?

VAL: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER: Did you tell the witnesses that you’re repeating?

VAL: No, I didn’t.

COMMISSIONER: I think you should tell them.

VAL: OK. You want me to just advise them that —

COMMISSIONER: Just advise them —

VAL: — repeating the process and not go into any detail?

COMMISSIONER: That’s right.

VAL: OK.

WILLIS MARABLE: Commissioner? The superintendent is entering the execution chamber and approaching the mic at this time to advise the witnesses that we will proceed again with the execution.

COMMISSIONER: Well, listen, you can’t tell them — tell them there were some vital signs remaining, so the execution will repeat. See if you can get that message to them.

WILLIS MARABLE: It’s too late now. He’s already briefed them, and he’s on the way back in, sir.

COMMISSIONER: Fine, alright.

UNIDENTIFIED: I show the time is 12:28.

UNIDENTIFIED: OK, Commissioner, we’ll proceed at this time.

COMMISSIONER: Proceed.

UNIDENTIFIED: On my count of three, you press your button. One, two, three.

WILLIS MARABLE: Commissioner? Mr. Low? The execution is initiated again at this time. The condemned made one big jerk, and now he is relaxing in the chair. I do not detect any other movement from the condemned at this time. We have completed the first and second phase of the execution. We are now into the third phase. I do detect his head moving from side to side again. We’re still into the third phase of the execution. Commissioner? Mr. Low?

COMMISSIONER: Yes.

WILLIS MARABLE: He is still at this time moving his head from side to side and appears to be breathing. We’ll continue it just like we did previously.

UNIDENTIFIED: We’re going to have to check that [inaudible].

WILLIS MARABLE: We have fifteen seconds remaining on the third phase of the execution. Commissioner, Mr. Low, the third phase of the execution is completed. The equipment is switched off, secured at this time. We are now into the five-minutes lapse time.

COMMISSIONER: What is the status on the condemned?

WILLIS MARABLE: Sir, he appears to be breathing to me.

COMMISSIONER: You’re going to have to have them check those sponges and check their connections or something. There’s something they don’t have connected right, Willis.

WILLIS MARABLE: Yes, sir. Do you want us to go ahead and complete this whole thing and then —

COMMISSIONER: Yeah, complete the phase, and then you’re going to have to make the check.

WILLIS MARABLE: OK, sir. Commissioner, Mr. Low, we have completed one minute of lapse time. We have four minutes remaining. I might also advise at this time that I do not detect any movement from him at this time. He appears to have stopped moving. Still no movement from any of the witnesses. They were just sitting very still, observing the condemned in the chair.

UNIDENTIFIED: I show the time at 12:32.

WILLIS MARABLE: We have now completed two minutes of phase time, lapse time. We have three minutes remaining. I might also add that I do not detect any movement from the condemned. Commissioner, Mr. Low, we have now completed three minutes lapse time. We have two minutes remaining. There is still no movement from the condemned. Commissioner, Mr. Low, we have completed four minutes of lapse time. We have one minute remaining. Still no detectable movement from the condemned. He does seem to have stopped moving entirely. Commissioner, Mr. Low, we have completed our five minutes lapse time. Stand by for the physicians’ check.

At this time, the superintendent and the two physicians are entering the execution chambers for their check. The first doctor is now in the process of making his check for vital signs.

UNIDENTIFIED: I show the time at 12:36. I show the time is 12:37.

WILLIS MARABLE: The second doctor is still in the process of conducting his check for vital signs. The superintendent is at this time, Commissioner, Mr. Low, is still in the process of briefing the witnesses that at 12:37 hours this date the condemned was pronounced dead. He has instructed all witnesses to depart the witness room. Back to the front of the institution. At this time, the curtains are drawn.

AMY GOODMAN: That was a recording from the execution of Alpha Otis O’Daniel Stephens. The execution actually lasted more than twenty minutes. To hear the full recordings from "The Execution Tapes," you can go to Public Radio producer Dave Isay’s website at soundportraits.org. And if you’d like to get a copy of today’s broadcast, the DVD that has the transcription of these audiotapes that were secret for so long, recorded by the State of Georgia, you can get the DVD by going to our website at democracynow.org.

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