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Convicted Killer Declared Dead After Second Execution Attempt

July 14, 1989

ATMORE, Ala. (AP) _ A mildly retarded killer died in Alabama’s electric chair early today in the second execution attempt after the first try failed because of a misconnected cable.

Horace Franklin Dunkins Jr., 28, was declared dead at 12:27 a.m., 19 minutes after the executioner first flipped the voltage switch. The U.S. Supreme Court turned down two last-minute appeals to stop the execution.

State Prison Commissioner Morris Thigpen and prison Warden Charles Jones said the jacks connecting electricity to the chair were reversed, and so did not deliver enough voltage to kill Dunkins on the first try.

″Through our procedures of checking the equipment each day, somehow, someway, it got reversed, and we are right now correcting the problem,″ Jones said.

″I regret very, very much what happened,″ Thigpen said. ″It was human error. I just hope he was not conscious and did not suffer.″

Dunkins’ attorney, Steve Ellis, described Dunkins’ death as a ″grisly scene.″

When the guard raised the two vinyl shades covering the window in the witness room, Dunkins was already strapped in the electric chair, his face covered by a black veil attached to the hood of the electrodes on his head.

Thigpen said the first throw of the switch at 12:08 a.m. brought no visible response from the condemned man.

A guard in the witness room opened the door to the death chamber, and told another guard directing the execution, ″I believe you’ve got the jacks on wrong.″ Neither guard was identified.

Two doctors who examined Dunkins determined he was unconscious, but had a strong heartbeat, Thigpen told a news conference later.

″They’re torturing him,″ Ellis said softly to a fellow witness during the medical exam.

At 12:17 a.m., the switch was thrown a second time. Ten minutes later, Dunkins was pronounced dead.

Alabama law allows application of electricity to the condemned until the prisoner is dead.

Dunkins’ execution marked the second time in six years that Alabama prison officials were forced to use more than one surge of electricity to carry out a death sentence. In 1983, it took three jolts to execute John Louis Evans III, a drifter who was put to death for killing a Mobile pawnbroker.

Dunkins, who according to court documents has an IQ of 69, was convicted in 1981 of murdering Lynn McCurry, a 26-year-old mother of four who was found stabbed 66 times and bound to a tree behind her home. A second defendant, Frank M. Harris, pleaded guilty and is serving a life sentence.

Dunkins became the 115th person executed in the United States and the fifth in Alabama since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to reinstate capital punishment in 1976.

The nation’s high court ruled two weeks ago that the death penalty is not unconstitutional when applied to the mentally retarded as long as the sentencing judge and jury consider the condition as a mitigating factor. Dunkins was described as mildly retarded.

As his last request, Dunkins asked to talk to Gov. Guy Hunt by telephone, but Thigpen said the governor did not wish to speak to him.

Hunt had denied clemency earlier Thursday, saying that he had reviewed Dunkins’ case but would not alter the decision by the courts. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta also refused to halt Dunkins’ execution.

The condemned inmate had met with ministers on the eve of his execution. He also visited with his father, Horace Franklin Dunkins Sr., who later was among 13 who witnessed the execution.

The U.S. Supreme Court, voting 7-2 each time, twice refused Thursday to block Dunkins’ execution. An initial request for a stay of execution had been sent to the high court, raising legal questions about executing an inmate of limited mental ability. Justices William J. Brennan and Thurgood Marshall voted to spare Dunkins.

The victim’s husband, Allen McCurry, had said that Dunkins deserved execution. ″It’s taken so long,″ he said. ″It ought to be over.″