U.S. execution tapes aired on radio, TV


NEW YORK, AP

The dry, emotionless voice provides a graphic description of the last moments of the condemned man’s life: His legs are strapped to the electric chair, followed by the jolt of killing power and final slump of his body.

The eerie chronicle of Ivon Ray Stanley’s execution in 1984 was heard on public radio stations nationwide Wednesday as part of an hour-long program made from official audio recordings of 23 electrocutions carried out in Georgia from 1983 through 1998.

The program was produced for New York public radio station WNYC, but parts of the recordings were also played by TV stations nationwide.

The broadcasts came just two weeks before the scheduled execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection on May 16 and had requested a public execution. A private broadcast of his execution is to be shown at a federal prison facility in Oklahoma City to accommodate dozens of victims and family members.

Laura Walker, the president of WNYC Radio, said the decision to air the Georgia tapes was “not something we decided to do lightly.”

“We believe this is important material in the public record,” Walker said at a news conference. “We believe we have a journalistic responsibility to air it.”

The tapes are eerie documents of the events that took place in the execution chamber as narrated by prison officials witnessing them.

The 11-minute tape of Stanley’s execution was broadcast in its entirety. The 28-year-old was sentenced to death for the 1976 killing of Clifford Floyd, an insurance salesman who was robbed, beaten and buried alive.

“At this time the condemned has been secured in the chair. He is not moving, he’s just sitting there very passively, staring out at the witnesses,” crackles the voice of Willis Marable, the warden’s assistant, who watched the execution chamber through a one-way mirror, and described the events step-by-step on the recording.

“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,” Marable says.

Listeners cannot hear Stanley during the execution, only the click when three state volunteers each press a button, one of which triggers the electric current.

“When the first surge entered his body, he stiffened and I heard a pop, as if one of the straps broke,” Marable says. “He is at this time sitting there with clenched fists, with no other movement.”

Once Stanley is declared dead, Marable is asked about the popping noise.

“I think it was just the electricity arc,” Marable says.”I don’t think any strap broke. He just jerked real hard and caused the electricity to arc.”

The recordings had been made to protect the state against possible legal action, but the practice is no longer done, said Scott Stallings, director of public affairs for the Department of Correction.

They were subpoenaed by an Atlanta attorney and handed over a few weeks ago to the show’s producer, David Isay.

“It’s painful to listen to,” Isay said. “The people sound so dispassionate. It sounds like a NASA space launch. Even when the executions are botched, it’s routine, routine, routine.”