First installed at Kilby State Prison in Montgomery, Alabama, the chair acquired its yellow color (and from it, the nickname "Yellow Mama") when it was painted with highway-line paint from the adjacent State Highway Department lab. The chair was built by a British inmate in 1927 and was first used to execute Horace DeVauhan in that year.
Before 1923, executions in Alabama were the responsibility of the counties and were carried out by hanging in private gallows. In 1923, legislation provided for state-performed executions by electrocution. At Kilby Prison in Montgomery, a special room was designated for this purpose. Inmate Ed Mason, a master carpenter by trade who was serving 60 years for theft and grand larceny, built Yellow Mama. The electric chair remained there until 1970, when it was moved to Holman Prison.
The first execution by electrocution in Alabama was performed in the Yellow Mama on April 8, 1927. Between 1930 and 1976 there were 135 executions completed using Yellow Mama. In 1983, the State Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of using lethal injections in place of electrocutions. However, the bill failed. In 1997, a bill was discussed which would allow the condemned prisoners to be executed by the option of lethal injection.
Problems with Yellow Mama
Alabama has experienced several problematic executions involving the chair. On April 22, 1983, John Louis Evans, the first post-Furman prisoner to be executed by the state, was hit with an initial jolt of electricity, which lasted 30 seconds. Evans’ body tensed up, causing the electrode on his left leg to snap off. Soon smoke and flames were shooting out from under the hood that covered his head. When two physicians entered the death chamber they found him still alive. Ignoring Evans' lawyer's plea, a third jolt of electricity was applied and he died. The execution took a total of 14 minutes and his body was left charred and smoldering. In 1989 the state executed Horace Dunkins, who had an IQ of 69 and was convicted of murdering Lynn McCurry. In Dunkins’ execution the first jolt of electricity only knocked him unconscious. Charles Jones, the warden at the time, said that because the jacks connecting the electricity to the chair had been reversed, there was not enough voltage to kill him on the first try. Therefore, it took 19 minutes for Dunkins to die.
Yellow Mama is now stored in an attic above the execution chamber at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama. The last execution to occur using it was that of Lynda Lyon Block on May 10, 2002. On July 1 of that year, a revision to Alabama's death penalty went into effect allowing for an inmate to choose execution by either lethal injection or electrocution. Yellow Mama remains in storage in the event a future death row inmate elects to have the death sentence carried out by electrocution.
- Capital punishment in Alabama
- Gruesome Gertie, the nickname given to Louisiana's electric chair
- Old Smokey, the nickname given to New Jersey and Pennsylvania's electric chair
- Old Sparky, the nickname give to several states' electric chairs
- "Yellow Mama Claims Her First Victim in AL". Retrieved May 21, 2012.
- "Alabama Department of Corrections History". Retrieved May 20, 2012.
- Bass, S. Jonathan (February–March 1992). "Riding the Lightning: Kilby Prison and the Big Yellow Mama, 1927-1965, Part II". The ABBHS Newsletter. Alabama Bench and Bar Historical Association: 1, 4–5.
- "Women and the Death Penalty in the United States". May 21, 2012.
- New York Times April 23, 1983