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Opinion | Gov. v. AG: Fight over execution process, aiming higher is the answer

By contradicting Ivey on the execution moratorium, Marshall made clear that respect for decency and law aren’t important to him.

Attorney General Steve Marshall in 2021. Governor's Office/Hal Yeager
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Who do you think you are, Kay Ivey? 

That seemed to be the message of a performing arts-worthy press conference held by Alabama AG Steve Marshall on Monday, as he attempted to put the governor in her place for declaring a moratorium on executions in Alabama until the state could adequately review our failing execution process. 

That process had failed twice recently, left a third man sliced to pieces and experienced numerous problems over the past few years. So, last month, in a rare showing of sanity for this state, issued a moratorium on executions so the Alabama Department of Corrections could review its policies and procedures and everyone could figure out why we, as a state, keep screwing this up so badly. 

But Steve Marshall saw opportunity. 

Not opportunity to rectify an obviously flawed execution process or to offer his office’s resources to assist in Ivey’s ordered review or to even take the opportunity to tackle just some of the worst-in-the-nation problems that plague our prison system and ADOC – problems that have led to ADOC being repeatedly unable to carry out the most basic tasks. 

No. Steve Marshall saw an opportunity to assist Steve Marshall. 

That’s all Monday’s press conference was – 10 minutes of Marshall performing for cameras and trying his best to position himself as the tough-on-crime, no-nonsense guy for future elections. 

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The way you know that this is true is because Steve Marshall is not a dumb person. He’s not some hayseed mouth-breather with a double-digit vocabulary. He’s not a simpleton. 

And so, when Marshall stands before you and pretends that there is no middle ground between torturing other humans on the way to the death chamber and abolishing the death penalty, you know that Steve Marshall is performing for you. 

When he juxtaposes the crimes that landed a man on death row with the state doing “a little poking and prodding,” as he put it, you know that what Steve Marshall wants you to believe is that it’s OK to reduce ourselves as a state to the moral equivalence of a murderer because revenge from afar feels good. 

And most of all, what Steve Marshall wants you to believe is that he is the good guy, standing up for victims and victims’ families while the “activists” try to strip away justice. While Kay Ivey attempts to usurp his authority. While the liberals cry for murderers. 

That works, I guess, if you don’t think about it too hard. 

Because if you did, you’d probably start to wonder if all the victims’ families are truly supportive of this process (they’re not) or how taxing it might be on victims’ families to keep making trips to prisons for executions that get botched. 

Or you might wonder why a state’s AG is trying to undercut the governor who’s merely asking for a review of the process that has led to multiple and repeated errors and issues. Prior to the last execution attempt, multiple state lawmakers went to Ivey and ADOC and asked for assurances that ADOC was prepared to carry out the execution. They were concerned because the state had botched its two previous attempts, and state leaders who pushed those executions forward had looked like fools. 

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They made it clear that they didn’t want that again. And they were assured that ADOC was ready to go. 

Guess what happened? 

This isn’t about anti-death penalty and pro-death penalty. It’s about basic competency and basic human decency. 

Pretending that it’s OK to essentially torture a human for a while because that person did bad things – as Marshall did when he made the comparison between a victim’s stab wounds and the “tiny needle” doing its poking and prodding – so debases the entire state that we no longer possess the moral right to stand in judgment of a convicted murderer. To think otherwise leans heavy into revenge and primal emotion, neither of which should be present in the execution process. And an AG who attempts to convince you otherwise also has no place in that process. 

Call me crazy, but I think maybe the state should aim a bit higher. 

We should aim higher when carrying out death sentences. We should aim higher in our treatment of incarcerated men and women. And we should damn well aim higher in electing people, particularly AGs, who are responsible for ensuring we maintain high standards in those areas. 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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