1917: Thirteen black soldiers of the 24th U.S. Infantry Regiment 1945: The Belsen war criminals

1984: Alpha Otis O’Daniel Stephens: hear it live

December 12th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1984, Alpha Otis O’Daniel Stephens was electrocuted in Georgia for the execution-style murder of Roy Asbell after the latter surprised Stephens in the course of a burglary.

Stephens makes these pages for two reasons:

First, he survived his initial electrocution, requiring a second application of the lethal current — awful, though not exactly unheard-of.

Second, it emerged years later that the Georgia Department of Corrections was making audio recordings of its executions as a secret archive of the proceedings.

Several hours’ worth of these (subsequently leaked) recordings from various different Georgia electrocutions are available at SoundPortraits.org.*

We begin our trip back in time to Georgia’s execution chamber with the atmospheric sound of the warrant for his execution being read to the condemned and the witness — nicely juxtaposing the sentence of death with the body responsible for administering it: the Georgia Department of Offender Rehabilitation.

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But the real action is the sound behind the curtain as prison officials realize the electrocution has not killed their man, wait agonizing minutes for the still-living body to cool enough for doctors to examine it officially, and begin the execution cycle anew. From the sound of it, they only barely killed him with the second pass: the officials are worrying openly that it looks like he’s still breathing very late in the procedure.

This file, obviously, comes with a content advisory sticker — though it lacks any directly identifiable hideous sound from the chair, or the prisoner, or the witnesses, the routine narrative of a prison bureaucrat as a man dies dreadfully in the next room is an altogether different order of horror.

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This audio file was helpfully clipped by Dysfunctional Playground from the Pacifica radio Democracy Now! broadcast which aired it; the clip is itself an abridged version of a 20-minute original with long silences and unintelligible content excised.

The transcript of the abridged clip as aired by Democracy Now! follows below. Willis Marable, the main speaker on the tapes, was an assistant warden.


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.

* Here’s another recorded Georgia execution we’ve featured.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Georgia,Mature Content,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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7 thoughts on “1984: Alpha Otis O’Daniel Stephens: hear it live”

  1. Anthony Bates says:

    Politicians, Prosecutors and police for the statesthat do have the death penalty are nothing more than a bunch of sick social phsicopaths that only have a blood lust and and do this because they claim that the people want it. Well to those who want this type of barbaric sanction to continue, you are also a bunch of sick social physicopaths also. this and mass incarceration has cause the poor and the minorities of our country to be forced to suffer at the hands of the rich because the rich for the most part don’t get the death penalty or have to fight and die for this country only the poor. Instead of trying to kill us poor minorities and build more prisons how about spendi less on incarceration and more on education. only rich bigoted, white republican cowards favor the death penalty. For any of you brainwash black folks who would want something like this to happen to another black person, even if you or one of your loved ones are victims, I say to you the person that did this to someone you love will face a much more worse fate than what any man can do to a condemd man’s body. God will cause suffering to his soul because you can’t appologize to some one after you take their life. Lastly, due to the many exonerations, there is proof that we have murdered quite afew innocent people. Since killing the innocent is murder and murder is punishable by death, those of you who willingly subscribe to this barbaric practice are all murderers and should be put to death yourselves.

  2. Codi Preston D. says:

    How ironic that the Georgia Department Of Corrections in 1984 was named the “Georgia Department of Offender Rehabilitation”. I thought rehabilitate meant to change a person from being a bad person to a good person, or to make them see the circumstances of their crimes and let them understand why they did it and learn why it was wrong for them to do it. The irony in the name of the “Department Of Offender Rehabilitation” is that you don’t rehabilitate someone by executing them. If a criminal is executed, then he has no chance ever of possibly being rehabilitated because a dead person cannot rehabilitate himself or herself. Aside from this electrocution being such a horrible death; no matter what terrible thing Alpha Otis Stephens did, no one should ever be executed like that. It is my firm belief so and I have never changed my mind since I was a little boy of 7 years old and I still feel the same way, at age 35. Of course, though, I have high functioning Autism and so emotionally and socially I’m still at the level of a 4 or 5 year old.

    What really bothers me, at least in the state of California where I am from, is that we care more about our prisoners than about our education system. This is a subject that makes me boiling mad when I think about it. We seem to care about problems when it is too late. Here in California, our death penalty does not even work. Out of 730 people on death row, in the past 35 YEARS (since the year I was born), only 13 people have been executed. 19 death row inmates have committed suicide at San Quentin State Prison, where death row is, from 1976 to 2012. This means that if you are sentenced to die in California, it is 98% (or even more likely) that you will die a natural death due to old age behind bars. What is ridiculous is that if this is really the case, why not sentence them to LIFE IMPRISONMENT in the first place? Do you know how much it costs to execute someone? The state of California has spent $5 billion on the death penalty, for nothing. That is BILLION, not milion, with a capital B. When someone is sentenced to death here in California, they have to be given all these fancy lawyers which cost MILLIONS of dollars for each inmate’s appeals. If the state is not going to execute them anyway, spending money on giving them expensive lawyers is a real waste. A person sentenced to life imprisonment doesn’t cost the state even 1/20th as much as what would be spent if they are sentenced to death, because if they are sentenced to life, then they don’t file all these death sentence appeals.

    Can you imagine what it would be like if we saved $5 BILLION dollars and sent these criminals to life imprisonment (and really meant life??). We could use that for education or other things. We could be using that freed up money to help kids while they are still within the reach of help. We could be putting money in after school programs for teens to divert them away from joining gangs and people who are bad influences. But no, we don’t do that. This shows me that we really don’t care about our children at all, that it is all just lip service. If we spent our money in the educational system teaching children right and wrong from a young age like kindergarten or preschool up till high school, and in after school programs, we wouldn’t have so many people in prison 20-30 years later!! We spend more money on prisons than the educational system. Might as well raise up your children to become criminals, as there seems to be more money there, do parents have children so that they can as adults become criminals?? If this is really the case, then I seriously hope every child stays a child mentally and physically and never grows up, because then at least we wouldn’t have to deal with them as a criminal going to state prison as an adult. And the thing is, if that money was spent where it was supposed to be spent – on education instead of the criminal justice system – maybe I wouldn’t be sitting here typing telling you right now about the fact that I have Autism and that although I am 35, my emotional and social age is that of a 4 or 5 year old. If I had gotten early intervention for my Autism like I should have had, I wouldn’t be like a 5 year old now. I’m not saying intellectually I am like a 5 year old. I am not. I am a freaking savant who knows every song from the 1950s to the 1990s and can tell you how to get anywhere like a walking atlas. But, emotionally and socially, I am like a 4 to 5 year old, and I have been diagnosed by a psychiatrist as such having developmental delays. If I had gotten early intervention, I might now be emotionally and socially like a 17 year old. I’ve seen people with Asperger Syndrome or Autism who get early intervention and they are like teens at the age of 25 or so. But certainly better than me, way better. I have mostly preschoolers, toddlers, young children and older people over age 40 (librarians, old college instructors, etc) as friends and peers. I have virtually no friends in the 13 to 39 year old age group. I do not even get along with Asperger Syndrome people that are in their 20s and 30s that act like teens. My interests are very child oriented. I love Care Bears, Barney, Teletubbies, Sesame Street (the old 1980s and 1990s episodes), Maurice Sendak’s Little Bear, Wimzie’s House, Arthur (the aardvark who has a sister named D.W.), that sort of thing on TV and YouTube. I know the lady who does Arthur’s mom’s voice on Arthur and Wimzie from Wimzie’s House and I talk to her fairly often, she lives in Canada. I love toys and kid stuff. But, I probably wouldn’t be like this if I had gotten early intervention like I should have gotten. It’s too late to help me, I’m 35 years old, but it’s not too late to help others who are young children and autistic, and we can do this by freeing up the money that is spent on useless things like the death penalty. I don’t have a job and can’t hold onto one….the unemployment rate, by the way, even for the highest functioning Asperger Syndrome is 88%, and for classic autism (which I have; I didn’t start talking till 4 years old although I have clearly made up for my lack of speech), the unemployment rate is 95%!! I doubt even most paroled felons have unemployment rates that high. Think about our 15% unemployment rate for normal people in California; how would you feel if it was 95%?? I do volunteer at one of my local libraries helping out my children’s librarian friend with her Preschooler Storytime (3-5 year olds) and I rile the kids up, but it’s not a paid job.

    Thanks for listening to me and for understanding me

    Codi Preston D. from California (wanting to move to South Carolina)

  3. Anselmo says:

    He deserve to die.

  4. Fiz (UK) says:

    Cruel and unusual indeed. I don’t know what this man did, but for G-d’s Sake, make it as painfree as you can! It took 15 seconds to hang a man and kill him in the UK . This has to be preferable to electricution or “lethal injection”, surely?

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