“He’s Going to Wake Up”: Alabama Inmate May Have Suffered Excruciating Pain During Execution

Torrey McNabb was one of several inmates suing the state over lethal injection drugs.

Alabama Department of Corrections/AP

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

Alabama executed Torrey McNabb Thursday night, and the effectiveness of lethal injection drugs is once again in question after McNabb appeared to be in pain before he died.

McNabb’s previous execution date had been on stayed on October 16 by a federal court, because he was part of a class action suit over the use of midazolam, a controversial sedative used in lethal injections, but the Supreme Court lifted that stay three days later. During the execution, McNabb reportedly moved his head, grimaced, and raised his arms after two consciousness checks. 

McNabb’s family members and attorneys who witnessed the execution were reportedly concerned that he was conscious. “He’s going to wake up,” one of his family members said, according to CBS News.

Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said the execution went as planned and suggested that McNabb was not in pain. “I’m confident he was more than unconscious at that point,” he said. “Involuntary movement is not uncommon.” There has been little research on how much pain inmates feel during execution by lethal injection, but a 2007 Public Library of Science study found that inmates may actually experience excruciating pain before dying. Last December, Alabama inmate Ronald Smith coughed and heaved for 13 minutes after he was administered the drug. 

McNabb—who was convicted for the 1997 murder of Anderson Gordon, a Montgomery, Alabama police officer—was one of several inmates suing Alabama over its use of midazolam. In a three-drug protocol for lethal injection, midazolam is administered first to render the inmate unconscious, the second drug causes paralysis, and the final drug stops the heart. The inmates are arguing that the sedative does not reliably render an inmate unconscious before the subsequent drugs, thus exposing him to excruciating pain.

McNabb’s lawyers said the state shouldn’t carry out the execution because of the pending class action lawsuit. Last month, a federal court stayed the execution of Jeffery Borden, another Alabama inmate in the class action suit over midazolam. The stay is still in effect. He had been scheduled to be put to death on October 5. 

On Thursday, the Alabama attorney general’s office appealed to lift the stay, arguing that McNabb and the other inmates were unlikely to prevail in their lawsuit because the state had previously successfully executed inmates using midazolam. The US Supreme Court lifted the stay just hours before his scheduled execution.

McNabb was pronounced dead at 9:38 p.m. He addressed the state of Alabama in his final words saying, “I hate you motherfucker, I hate you.”

THE FACTS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES.

At least we hope they will, because that’s our approach to raising the $350,000 in online donations we need right now—during our high-stakes December fundraising push.

It’s the most important month of the year for our fundraising, with upward of 15 percent of our annual online total coming in during the final week—and there’s a lot to say about why Mother Jones’ journalism, and thus hitting that big number, matters tremendously right now.

But you told us fundraising is annoying—with the gimmicks, overwrought tone, manipulative language, and sheer volume of urgent URGENT URGENT!!! content we’re all bombarded with. It sure can be.

So we’re going to try making this as un-annoying as possible. In “Let the Facts Speak for Themselves” we give it our best shot, answering three questions that most any fundraising should try to speak to: Why us, why now, why does it matter?

The upshot? Mother Jones does journalism you don’t find elsewhere: in-depth, time-intensive, ahead-of-the-curve reporting on underreported beats. We operate on razor-thin margins in an unfathomably hard news business, and can’t afford to come up short on these online goals. And given everything, reporting like ours is vital right now.

If you can afford to part with a few bucks, please support the reporting you get from Mother Jones with a much-needed year-end donation. And please do it now, while you’re thinking about it—with fewer people paying attention to the news like you are, we need everyone with us to get there.

payment methods

THE FACTS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES.

At least we hope they will, because that’s our approach to raising the $350,000 in online donations we need right now—during our high-stakes December fundraising push.

It’s the most important month of the year for our fundraising, with upward of 15 percent of our annual online total coming in during the final week—and there’s a lot to say about why Mother Jones’ journalism, and thus hitting that big number, matters tremendously right now.

But you told us fundraising is annoying—with the gimmicks, overwrought tone, manipulative language, and sheer volume of urgent URGENT URGENT!!! content we’re all bombarded with. It sure can be.

So we’re going to try making this as un-annoying as possible. In “Let the Facts Speak for Themselves” we give it our best shot, answering three questions that most any fundraising should try to speak to: Why us, why now, why does it matter?

The upshot? Mother Jones does journalism you don’t find elsewhere: in-depth, time-intensive, ahead-of-the-curve reporting on underreported beats. We operate on razor-thin margins in an unfathomably hard news business, and can’t afford to come up short on these online goals. And given everything, reporting like ours is vital right now.

If you can afford to part with a few bucks, please support the reporting you get from Mother Jones with a much-needed year-end donation. And please do it now, while you’re thinking about it—with fewer people paying attention to the news like you are, we need everyone with us to get there.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate