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Alabama Man Executed for Woman’s Murder

July 13, 1990

ATMORE, Ala. (AP) _ A murderer called the death penalty racist before he was strapped into the electric chair and executed early today.

Wallace Norrell Thomas, 35, quoted from the Bible and read a 1 1/2 -page statement as relatives and other witnesses looked on.

″Let my death serve as an instigator that will awaken a nation to fight and adopt the philosophy of the late, great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said, ’Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,‴ Thomas said.

Thomas, who was black, called capital punishment a ″racist, violent penalty.″ He wore a purple ribbon and a sticker saying, ″Execute justice, not people.″

Alabama death row inmates clanged the bars of their cells and yelled as the execution time drew near.

Thomas was condemned for the Dec. 20, 1976, abduction and gunshot slaying of Quenette Shehane, 21, who had graduated from Birmingham-Southern College just a few days before. She was kidnapped at a convenience store near the campus.

One of two other men charged in the case implicated Thomas in the shooting. Thomas’ co-defendants are serving life sentences.

The U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected an appeal in the case in April, on Thursday rejected Thomas’ plea for a delay.

Later, Gov. Guy Hunt restated his intention to let the execution proceed, and the state Supreme Court denied an emergency stay motion.

In the appeal, Thomas’ lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, argued that the electric chair is inhumane, based on two instances in which inmates were not killed with the first flip of the switch. He also challenged a judge’s instructions to jurors for Thomas’ trial.

Thomas was the 133rd person executed since the Supreme Court in 1976 allowed states to resume use of the death penalty, the eighth in Alabama.

While on death row at Holman Prison near Atmore, Thomas helped found Project Hope, an anti-death penalty group for inmates and their families. The organization seeks to educate the public about capital punishment and tries to bring condemned inmates and their relatives together.

Miss Shehane’s mother, Miriam Shehane, has become Alabama’s leading advocate for victims’ rights. Mrs. Shehane helped found the group Victims of Crime and Leniency.

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