Virginia Execution Tapes Capture Convicts' Last Words

State won't release recordings despite open records request
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 8, 2023 5:00 PM CST
Virginia Execution Tapes Capture Convicts' Last Words
Former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, left, looks over the electric chair in the death chamber at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, with Operations Director George Hinkle, center, and Corrections Department Director Harold Clarke in March 2021.   (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

On a 1989 audio recording crackling with static, an inmate is barely audible as he offers his last words before he is executed in Virginia's electric chair. "I would like to express that what is about to take place ... is a murder," Alton Waye—who was convicted of raping and murdering a 61-year-old woman—can be heard saying before a prison employee clumsily tries to repeat those words into a tape recorder. "And that he forgives the people who's involved in this murder. And that I don't hate nobody and that I love them," the employee says, per the AP.

The recording of Waye's execution is one of at least 35 audio tapes in the possession of the Virginia Department of Corrections documenting executions between 1987 and 2017, officials recently confirmed. It offers a rare public glimpse into an execution, a government proceeding often shrouded in secrecy and only witnessed by a few, including prison officials, victims, family members, and journalists. Even those who are allowed to witness are often prevented from seeing or hearing the entire execution process. But the department has no plans to allow more recordings to be released to the public. The state ended capital punishment in 2021.

The AP sought the Virginia audio tapes under the state's open records law after NPR recently reported on the existence of four execution recordings, including the Waye tape, that had long been in the possession of the Library of Virginia. But shortly after NPR aired the recording, the Department of Corrections asked for the tapes back, and the library complied. The department then rejected the AP's request for copies of all of the execution recordings in its possession, citing exemptions to records law covering security concerns, private health records, and personnel information. Several death penalty experts said the four recordings in Virginia and another 23 Georgia execution tapes released two decades ago are believed to be the only publicly available recordings of executions in the US.

(Read more execution stories.)

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