“Some time between 1 o’clock and daybreak, Horace Devaughn will be led into the death chamber to pay the penalty for the murder of A.B. Moore and Mrs. Ruby Thornton in Birmingham last January,” reported The St. Petersburg Times on April 5, 1927. Three days later Devaughn, a black man, was executed at Kilby Prison, marking Alabama’s first use of the electric chair. Two weeks later, Virgil Murphy, a veteran of World War I who was convicted in Houston County of murdering his wife, became the first white man electrocuted in the chair.
In 1923, legislation had provided for state-performed executions to be carried out by electrocution. Prior to 1923, executions were the responsibility of the counties, and in Alabama, that generally meant hanging.
The electric chair was first used in 1890. The execution box consisted of a simple electrical panel with three buttons: an orange power button, a red stop button and a solemnly black execute button. The chair was subsequently used by more than 25 states throughout the 20th century, acquiring nicknames such as Sizzlin’ Sally, Old Smokey, Old Sparky, and Gruesome Gertie.
Alabamans referred to their electric chair as Yellow Mama; the chair acquired its yellow color from a contribution of highway line paint from the adjacent State Highway Department lab. It was built by a British inmate in 1927.
Yellow Mama now sits unused, inside the execution chamber at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama. The last execution to occur in the chair was that of Lynda Lyon Block on May 10, 2002. Following her execution, a bill was passed that would allow for execution by either lethal injection or electrocution.