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Alabama Executes 74 year-old Man
8/6/2004 10:15 AM

At 6:30 p.m. on 5 August 2004, Alabama executed James Hubbard, a 74 year-old man who had been on death row for over twenty-six years. According to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Hubbard is the oldest U.S. inmate to be put to death since before World War II.

At the time of his execution, the elderly man was in very poor health, suffering from ulcers, prostate cancer, colon cancer, and other infirmities. Moreover, Hubbard was recently diagnosed with dementia - a condition which could have caused confusion, and interfered with Hubbard’s ability to understand his legal options prior to execution.

According to the Alabama Committee to Abolish the Death Penalty, “simple decency” demanded mercy in this case. Defense attorneys argued Hubbard’s advanced age and mental incompetence made the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment in his case, and joined advocacy groups in urging Alabama’s Governor Riley to grant clemency. In a letter to the Governor, attorneys stated: “Rather than put him, his family and the state of Alabama through the ordeal and spectacle of an execution, we humbly and respectfully suggest... to let Mr. Hubbard, who has already served the equivalent of a life sentence, simply die in prison.” (cited from:

Not persuaded by these arguments and appeals, both the courts and the Governor refused to stop Hubbard’s execution. In arguing that the elderly man should be executed, Assistant Attorney General Clay Crenshaw asserted: “[E]ven if [Hubbard] suffered from dementia, that doesn’t necessarily make him incompetent.” [Cited from:].

In a final attempt to stop Hubbard’s execution, on 4 August 2004 the defense appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which voted 5-4 against a stay. Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsberg, and Breyer would have granted the elderly man a stay of execution.

Compiled from:

Prison Talk Online, Alabama - Protest James Hubbard's Execution.

No stay for 74-year old man, Associated Press, CNN, 4 August 2004.

Too Old to be Executed?, Samira Jafari, Sun Herald, 31 July 2004.

Alabama Executes 74-Year-Old for 1977 Murder, Oldest Inmate Put to Death in Decades, Samira Jafar, 5 August 2004.