Alabama Executes Casey McWhorter

Updated 11.16.23 Originally published 11.08.23

Alabama executed Casey McWhorter by lethal injection today.

Just three months after his 18th birthday, Casey McWhorter was charged in the shooting death of Lee Williams in Marshall County.

He was too poor to hire an attorney, and his court-appointed lawyers did not adequately represent him at trial. Because they failed to investigate his background, the judge and jury never heard compelling mitigating evidence about his childhood and development, including substance use that started when he was just eight years old. The failure to adequately present evidence of substance use at trial undermined the reliability of both his conviction and his sentence.

Different counsel later discovered that the prosecutor failed to disclose evidence indicating that Mr. McWhorter did not fire the fatal shots, further undermining the reliability of Mr. McWhorter’s trial.

Mr. McWhorter was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 1994 after a juror who hid the fact that her father having been killed used her father’s murder and its traumatic impact on her to persuade her fellow jurors to vote for the death penalty, according to court filings.

Despite this biased juror’s efforts, two jurors refused to vote for the death penalty, which in nearly every other state would have mandated a life-without-parole sentence.

This is the second execution in Alabama since the Alabama Supreme Court announced an unprecedented rule change granting the governor unrestricted discretion to set a “time frame” for carrying out executions.

Alabama is the only state in the country that allows an execution to be carried out during an undefined “time frame,” which has the practical effect of permitting prison staff to continuously attempt to execute a person for hours or days. This is especially problematic in light of Alabama’s prolonged and unexplained execution of Joe James in July 2022 and its botched attempts to execute Alan Miller and Kenneth Smith in September and November 2022, respectively.

This is also the second time state officials have failed to follow the new rules. When James Barber’s execution was scheduled earlier this year, the State failed to follow the new protocol’s notice requirements, and the news media announced the execution time frame before the State notified Mr. Barber or his counsel.

Attorneys for Mr. McWhorter argued in an appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court that the governor failed to provide the required 30 days’ notice before the execution date.

“The Governor’s inadequate notice violates Mr. McWhorter’s constitutional rights to due process and equal protection,” Mr. McWhorter’s attorneys wrote in an appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court. “This Court should act to ensure it retains control over, and consistency in, its rulemaking power and exercises its supervisory authority over executions.”

The Alabama Supreme Court denied the appeal on November 7.

Prison staff executed James Barber on July 21 after a divided U.S. Supreme Court rejected his argument that Alabama should not be permitted to execute him following three torturous failed executions in 2022, including two scheduled executions where condemned prisoners were returned to their cells after hours of poking, prodding, and excruciating anguish.

State officials asserted that it took the IV team “three sticks” to access veins to achieve Mr. Barber’s execution. Some witnesses reported that he showed some discomfort and distress before he was pronounced dead at 1:56 am.