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In the shadow of his planned execution, James Barber says he sees hope
From Alabama's death row, an appreciation of forgiveness
His hope doesn’t lie with the State of Alabama.
Instead, James Barber, scheduled to be executed on the evening of July 20, said he puts his faith in a much higher power.
On Wednesday, about a dozen people gathered to pray for Barber, who goes by Jimi, at a vigil in the state’s capital city ahead of his planned lethal injection.
Rev. Manuel B. Williams led the brief service inside Resurrection Catholic Church, asking the attendees scattered amongst the church’s pews to join him in asking for God to intercede on behalf of the condemned man.
“We come this afternoon mindful that each of us in our humanity, our glory, and our grime, are perpetually in need of your forgiveness, perpetually in need of your grace and mercy,” he said. “We come this afternoon mindful that each of us in our humanity, our glory, and our grind, are perpetually in need of your forgiveness, perpetually in need of your grace and mercy.”
Barber was convicted and sentenced to death for the 2001 murder of Dorothy “Dottie” Epps in Harvest, Alabama.
In the decades since, Barber said he’s received something he never expected to find from some of those who his actions “hurt most” — forgiveness.
Williams read a message from Barber at Wednesday’s vigil.
“My hope lies in the promises of my Creator, who is always faithful.
He is hope.
He has brought back into my life some of the people my actions hurt most — truly a miracle. He created a new thing not only for them but for me. Out of great tragedy came also great blessings for them and myself.
We have had the privilege of experiencing one of the most powerful spiritual forces in the universe: forgiveness.
I did not deserve it. I could not earn it. But I could not and will not ever take it for granted. Our lives have been changed in many wonderful and very miraculous ways.
I hope everyone who hears this will address any unforgiveness they harbor and give it to the Creator who is constantly creating new things for us and in us.
God bless you all and keep you.
Williams then read from chapter 8 of John, in which Jesus refuses to condemn a woman to death. Instead, he tells the Pharisees “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”
After, Williams made way for a song of consolation.
“I need you, you need me,” the congregants sang softly. “We're all a part of God's body. Stand with me, agree with me… You are important to me. I need you to survive.”
Alabama’s previous two attempts to execute its citizens through lethal injection led to the repeated poking and prodding of the condemned men — Alan Miller and Kenny Smith — but did not lead to their deaths. Difficulty establishing vein access by members of the execution team led to the state’s failure to carry out its grim mission, officials would later confirm.
In the wake of those failures, Barber has argued that an attempted execution by lethal injection would violate the Constitution. Instead, Barber has requested that his death come by nitrogen suffocation, an untested, unregulated method of execution allowed by Alabama law.
A federal court, however, rejected Barber’s argument, writing that changes to the death penalty process — an effective 6-hour extension of the timeframe executioners will have to establish vein access, for example — mean that the man’s situation differs substantially from those of Smith or Miller.
Barber has appealed the ruling to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which has already scheduled oral arguments ahead of the scheduled execution. Barring a favorable court ruling, however, Alabama will proceed with its plan to lethally inject Barber at 6 p.m. on July 20.
It’s a reality with which Barber has already come to terms.
But his hope, Barber explained, isn’t in this Earth, anyway. It’s in something far beyond.
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