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.[audio:Alpha_Otis_O’Daniel_Stephens_warrant.mp3]
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.[audio:Alpha_Otis_O’Daniel_Stephens_botched_execution.mp3]
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.