1882: Thomas Egan: 3 tries, 2 ropes, 1 innocent man 1685: James Scott, Duke of Monmouth

1989: Horace Franklin Dunkins, Jr., “just hope that he was not conscious”

July 14th, 2008 Headsman

Minutes after midnight this date in 1989, Alabama’s executioners electrocuted a developmentally disabled murderer. Nine minutes later, after rewiring the chair, they finally managed to kill him.

Alabama’s fifth execution of the “modern” era initially made the headlines as the nation’s first execution of a mentally impaired prisoner after the Supreme Court’s controversial Penry v. Lynaugh decision (since overturned) green-lighted the death penalty for developmentally disabled defendants.

Horace Franklin Dunkins, Jr. and an accomplice had raped a mother of four, tied her to a tree, and stabbed her to death, an unquestionably horrific crime. A black man with a white victim deep in Dixie … well, his IQ in the high sixties wasn’t going to help him do anything but waive his right to remain silent. The jury at his trial didn’t hear about his borderline mental retardation — Penry would require that juries get that information in the future — and at least one juror later said that little tidbit would have made the difference in Dunkins’s case.

At any rate, the buzz in this morning’s papers wasn’t about the circumstances of Dunkins’s entry into the criminal justice system, but his clumsy exit from it into the great hereafter.

According to the account of a Dr. John Vanlandingham:*

I saw Dunkins in the electric chair and I heard the generator start…. After a short period of time the other doctor … and I were called into the execution chamber. I could see that Dunkins was breathing…. I checked his peripheral pulse, in his wrist, and it was normal. I listened to his heart and his heartbeat was strong with little irregularity…. I told an official that Dunkins was not dead. Dr. – and I returned to the witness room…. I again heard the generator begin.

“I believe we’ve got the jacks on wrong,” the prison guard captain called out. It was flatly not enough current to kill, although it apparently did the killer the favor of knocking him out.

From 12:08 to 12:17, Dunkins sat motionless and seemingly unconscious while the execution team went all MacGyver on Yellow Mama. Once they’d fit Tab A into Slot B into Lethal Electrode C, they were finally able to try again. The doctors pronounced death 19 minutes after the switch had first been thrown.

”I regret very very much what happened,” the Alabama Prison Commissioner, Morris Thigpen, said at a news conference after the execution. ”It was human error. I just hope that he was not conscious and did not suffer.” (The New York Times)

* Dr. Vanlandingham was participating in the execution despite an injunction by the American Medical Association, which considers it a violation of the Hippocratic Oath. Physicians’ involvement (or not) in executions is a thorny ethical issue of its own; Vanlandingham, however, is not the only doctor to break the taboo.

Part of the Themed Set: Embarrassed Executioners.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Alabama,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Electrocuted,Execution,Milestones,Murder,USA

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33 thoughts on “1989: Horace Franklin Dunkins, Jr., “just hope that he was not conscious””

  1. legitdoc says:

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  2. Will says:

    I don’t understand how from a technical standpoint it is even possible to ‘hook the wires up backwards’. It’s AC voltage, there is no positive or negative terminals like on a battery, the polarity alternates between positive and negative at 60 cycles a second, AC=alternating current. The only possible way it could have made a difference is if the leg electrode was too small to effectively pass enough current through the body. Granted the information Alabama has been willing to share about Yellow Mama is absolutely minimal (thanks to Fred Leuchter’s attempted extortion scheme). I wish they would be willing to share more information about it before the chair ends up in a museum with all the interesting bits going to the scrap heap.

  3. Mandy says:

    I find the fact that the murderer in this case receives more pity and attention than the victim and her family that was left to grieve and carry on without her. It’s inconceivable to me that this crime being as heinous and brutal as it was that this is what you read about. And I can promise you that the family is still suffering everyday. Every time those girls look in the mirror and see a resemblance of their mother looking back or every time they look at their little one’s and see their mother’s eyes or or their mothers smile in the face of their children they are reminded of the mother that was taken away too soon. The parole hearing for the accomplice Frank Harris is coming up soon and they will relive this nightmare once again and it won’t end as long as they live. May God have mercy!

  4. Uwe says:

    Maybe he was not a rocket science, maybe he was a mildly retarded person. However even young children know if they are doing something that will get them into trouble. The punishment of a spanking or being grounded would have followed. In his case, the crime of murder, it was the electric chair. Defense attorney and bleeding hearts will always be able to come up with excuses for anyone on the planet.

  5. Bug says:

    These people are ignorant! This man was NOT retarded! I’m not saying he didn’t have problems because clearly he had some screws loose! However, just because he was DUMB does not mean he shouldn’t be held accountable for the evil he’s done, not only to Lynn but many other people in the area. This is my family!! I witnessed first hand the emotions of my cousins growing up without their mother!! If infact he was “Retarded” as you say, why did his own lawyer not present it!? Because its absolutely stupid, and irrelevant to the fact that he raped, tortured and murdered aunt lynn in front of her children!! Stabbed her 67 times!?!? Sounds like rage! In my opinion the state done society a favor by removing him! I do feel for his family, but even if it were my child that commited this crime I would feel the same way! And it is unfortunate that he was shocked twice but his family got payed for that and He was unconscious for the second jolt! So NO sympathy for him!!

  6. DeAnna says:

    How many of you condoning the murderers execution have had someone brutally murdered in your family and felt the heart ache it left in your hearts. Until you do want you just stop judging. good day

  7. brenda core says:

    he was mentally ill and should have not been executed. yes he was apart of, yes he was doing the wrong thing .what human being has the right to kill someone as other watch like watching the soaps. this was cruel. .when you kill him you became a murderer in gods eyes. the world need to wake up ,if you believe in god would he want you to execute a disable man with an i.q below 70.

  8. lawguy says:

    Its always interesting to find people who think that the state should be as brutal as a retarded killer.

    1. James says:

      Also interesting to find people who will excuse any crime, no matter how heinous.

      The woman he murdered wasn’t available for comment…

  9. Lynn's Daughter says:

    I do not condone what this man did to my mother but as a devout and devoted Christian I have learned to let go of the pain and try to move on.?i know that someday in that glorious sky I will reunite with my mother. Forgiveness in a important an nessecary step to gaining Gods peace.

    1. Becky says:

      I am sorry for the loss of your mother and hope that you find solace and healing. I am a staunch opponent of the death penalty, despite being an infantry veteran whose profession was once death.

      There is no fair in the world and very little right, but we can all choose to be kind and understanding.

      Have a great day!

    2. Mark Peszynski says:

      Very good outlook miss , I hope you’ve moved on to a prosperous life Wich you so ritchly deserve under the terrible circumstances , good bless !

  10. Leana Jo says:

    I have read about the murder of Lynn McCurry on the website called MurderVictims.com. Great site and I feel for Lynn’s family.

    But as a devout Methodist, I have to say killing a man who did this wasn’t right. Killing a killer doesn’t make anything right. Yes, I have never had anyone murdered in my family and I do feel for you, but executing the killer will never bring back your relative and I’m sorry about that. But he did know right from wrong and should have gotten a long sentence for it. I just don’t believe in executions.

  11. Tonya says:

    Ive had someone killed in my family and did not wish death on the killer. I would rather he sit in prison the rest of his life and rot. Killing someone gives them the easy way out!!!! Im from warrior and know the dunkins family and my mom use to live next door to her parents. Everybody is not the same amd wishes death upon anyone cause it could be your death instead. Christians dont wish bad on people. Also he raped a black woman in my family before this and the cops did nothing so dont ever say its not a race thing because it is a race thing in warrior,al. And yes lynn was the victim but killing him didnt and still wont solve anything; his partner in crime is rotting in prison as he should have!!!

  12. mike says:

    what if one of you were his victim or this was your child or mom matter of fact the person who brought this monster in this world should be ashamed of themselfs and hide under a rock!! just goes to show your great parenting skills myself i think anyone who does this kinda crime needs the same punishment given to them just like in the old testament an EYE for an EYE

    1. Becky says:

      I think you missed the entire point of that passage. The old Testament admonition is ‘copy pasta’ from Hammurabi’s Code and the argument is not one of punishment, but of the need to be proportional in your response.

      Then, right after that part of Matthew, that Jesus dude even takes that away, saying that you should forgive anyone who would strike you, without the desire for retaliation. He thinks you should make sure that they have unmarked canvas for a repeat.

      One of the biggest problems with religion is the hypocrisy of those who claim to be ‘devout’. You can find justification for just about anything you want in the bible and many do. Donald Trump is the overwhelming choice of the Talibangelical religious extremists and thus irony died.

      Have a great day!

      1. DeAnna says:

        Please don’t bring politics into this. This is my mother and I’d appreciate it if you would keep your opinions about politics out of this . What he did was pure evil. End of story

  13. lawguy says:

    I wonder how many of the above commentators consider themselves Christians?

    1. DeAnna says:

      She wasn’t your mother!!!

  14. Brian says:

    its great if he did feel pain during the electrocution. I’m sure his victim felt pain.

  15. Shelly says:

    I was a young girl when this happened. I lived just a few hundred yards through the woods from where he raped and murdered Lyn. I remember my dad being shakened that this could happen so close to us. I cant image what it has been like for HER children, her family, the ones who loved her and where left here to go on without her and having to know the absolute torture she indured before she died. My heart goes out to you still. as for Dunkin, death wasnt justice enough. shame on you jim

  16. JOHN says:


  17. Michele says:

    How can anyone talk like that Jim. You didn’t know her and I wasn’t born yet but I have heard stories and I also know how it hurt my cousins not having their mother growing up. They brutally murdered her while her children were just feet away. Does that sound humane? I don’t care who you are or how mental retarded you are, you know when something like this is not right……. He deserved it………..

  18. michael says:

    Jim, I don’t know what’s wrong with you but to me horace dunkins is not the victim! He put himself into this situation! How the execution went, ok that’s questionable. But wherever humans act there might be mistakes. My heartfelt condolences to Lynn’s family.
    In my opinion she is the victim!!!

  19. Lynn's daughter says:

    Hey Jim,
    Have you ever had someone that you loved or close to you murdered? If not how can you judge someone for getting justice? How dare you judge us for getting justice for my mother. Its not a matter of race, the fact that he was black had nothing to do with it. We would have wanted the same revenge if it was a white guy that committed this horiffic crime! I do not appreciate your ill mannered opinion when you have no idea or could even begin to imagine what our family has been through! And your little comments about us being trailor park trash or us throwing the bible around to moralize our justice, thats just appalling on your behalf!! It pisses me off when degenerates like you have to put your two cents in!!! So until you know what its like to lose someone important to you and have been there keep your opinions to yourself!!

    1. Anne says:

      i am so so sorry for your pain… I hope you have had some joy in your life. My heart goes out to all your family has had to endure. God Bless

  20. Jim says:

    Wow nothing like a ritualistic murder by the state in order to inflict vengence on a killer. Nothing that man has done in the past takes away from the fact that the state has taken a human being and killed him in a most brutal manner.

    I’ll bet the trailer-trash down south get real excited in their pants when they get to execute another black, almost like having an old-fashioned lynching.

    The best part is when they start thumping the bible to justify their barbaric tendencies yet they don’t even follow the basic ten commandments. LOL what a joke of a society.

    1. Anne says:

      You need to read the case!! What they did to this woman is beyond horrific!! The nightmare this family had to live through is too terrible to conceive!!

  21. Gordon says:

    You do the crime, you do the time. Retarded, cajoled, manipulated – I don’t care – he did it. Just as an 18 month old baby knows he or she is doing wrong by spitting their food out when they should be eating, this guy must also FUNDAMENTALLY know he wasn’t doing the right thing. I only hope the pathetic accomplice was fired just as hard and for just as long.

  22. kevin says:

    I understand right and wrong and killing a mentally retarded individual is just in humane. It shows just lack of judgement. It makes the executioners look super retarded. If you are truely retarded. can you blame them for acting retarded. We need nation healthcare which includes mental health. Do you realize how many ills are associated with having violently mentally ill people intermingled with the rest of society

  23. Kayla says:

    I feel for the family of Lynn McCurry, but it is hard to have sympathy for Dunkins. If he was mentally stable enough to commit the horrible crime he did, he was stable enough to pay for it. I think the justice system has too much sympathy for the criminals and not the victims or their families. The criminals beg for mercy and fight for their lives when they face their punishment; however, they do not give their vicitms the same courtesy. Had they thought of that at the time they were commiting their crimes, they would not be on death row in the first place. Even with the problem with the electrocution, he did not suffer the way Lynn did. We have to keep people like that out of society. IF you have no regard for human life, then no regard for your life should be given. Maybe that sounds harsh to some, but if it happened to your loved one, you would not think so. An eye for an eye!
    May God bless Lynn’s family. God bless Lynn’s children too.

  24. Lynn's Daughter says:

    I am the daughter of the woman, Lynn McCurry that was killed by Horace Dunkins. I feel bad for Dunkin’s family but however do not feel bad for him. What he did to my mother was horrific. I and my brothers and sister had to grow up without her and it caused a lot pain. We miss her so much and cannot express the pain that he has caused.

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