Alabama Executes 74-Year-Old Murderer
A 74-year-old murderer became the oldest U.S. inmate put to death in decades Thursday after courts and the governor refused to stop his execution. James Barney Hubbard died by injection at 6:36 p.m. at Holman Prison near Atmore. Hubbard was executed for the 1977 murder of 62-year-old Lillian Montgomery of Tuscaloosa. She was shot in the head and robbed after befriending Hubbard, who had been released from prison after serving 19 years for a 1957 killing.
Earlier Thursday, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to deny a stay for Hubbard. His attorney contended the execution would amount to cruel and unusual punishment for someone so old and mentally incompetent. Gov. Bob Riley rejected a request to commute Hubbard’s sentence for what he called a “heinous and violent” crime. “Justice has not been swift in this case, but justice must be delivered,” Riley said.
According to the Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Hubbard is the oldest person executed in the United States since 1941, when James Stephens of Colorado was executed at age 76.
In his filing with the Supreme Court, defense attorney Alan Rose said that although “Hubbard’s age-based execution claim appears to raise a novel issue,” it was in line with other claims of cruel and unusual punishment. The state in arguing for the execution said that “murderers Ã¢€” especially repeat killers like Hubbard Ã¢€” do not deserve `leniency’ merely because their life of crime does not result in the imposition of a death sentence until later in life.”
The story does not explain why it has taken 27 years to execute Hubbard. Nor does the Birmingham News account, other than a vague line from his attorney.
Hubbard’s attorney said there was a good reason it took 27 years to carry out the death sentence. “It’s because judges have been very troubled by some of the claims we have raised,” Rose said.
Interestingly, Amnesty International gives the best explanation I can find:
James Hubbard was tried in September 1977 and sentenced to death. After AlabamaÃ¢€™s death penalty statute was found unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in 1980, Hubbard was granted a new trial. He was again sentenced to death in April 1982. His appeals have been unsuccessful, including on the claim that his statement to the police had been involuntary on account of his alcoholism and low intelligence. His IQ has been assessed at 80, in the borderline mental retardation range.
So, we have a rather rich irony here: Hubbard was sentenced to death almost immediately after the crime, at which point he was 47 years old, and has spent 27 years with one unsuccessful appeal after another. Then he claimed it would be cruel to execute him because he was an old man!
The Birmingham News account, at least, presents the views of the victim’s family.
Six members of Montgomery’s family watched Hubbard die. I personally was glad to see this part of our lives end today, and maybe we can get on down the road with some of the things we’ve been trying to do,” said her oldest son, Jimmy Montgomery. He expressed disappointment that Hubbard’s life appeared to end so peacefully. “I’d just as soon see the electric chair still in use or maybe the firing squad. It seems like he just dozed off,” said the 66-year-old retired Army lieutenant colonel.
Hubbard’s body was released to his daughter, Barbara McKinney, who witnessed the execution but did not speak afterward.
Montgomery’s family, watching from a separate room, held hands. Some wept. At a press conference after the death, Jimmy Montgomery said he prayed for Hubbard’s daughter. “It’s tough, I’m sure, sitting there seeing your daddy die, but it was tough – us getting the word that our mother’s head had been blown off,” he said. The Montgomerys said Hubbard’s lack of remorse particularly troubled them.
A rather bizarre tale. Regardless of one’s views of the death penalty, it is unconscionable that the Montgomery family had to endure 27 years without closure on this. The idea that frivolous appeals should be able to be filed endlessly, limited only by the imagination of attorneys, is outrageous.