Velma Margi Barfield – 1969-1978

By | January 3, 2017

“Sorry for all the hurt that I have caused”


Velma Margi Barfield awaits lethal injection at Central Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina


Born on 29 October 1932, Velma Margi Barfield (née Bullard) was the first woman executed by lethal injection and the last woman executed in North Carolina. In 1963 she underwent a hysterectomy, which left her mentally scarred.

In 1969 her husband Thomas Burke died in a suspicious house fire. She married Jennings Barfield in August 1970. He died, supposedly of a heart attack, on 21 March 1971, having threatened to divorce her because of her drug addiction. In the intervening years several of those closest to Barfield died unexpectedly. In 1978, aged 46 and working as a nurse’s aide, Barfield was convicted of poisoning her fiancé by lacing his iced tea with ant and roach poison. She also admitted using arsenic to poison one husband, her mother and two invalids she had been attending. The motive for most of the killings was to stop the victims discovering she had stolen money from them to buy drugs.

The United States hadn’t executed a woman for 22 years and Barfield was given the choice of dying in the gas chamber or by lethal injection, eventually choosing the latter as her “gateway to Heaven”. During the lengthy appeal process that occupied six years on death row many people fought for her sentence to be commuted, including evangelist Billy Graham’s wife and daughter. They claimed during her imprisonment Barfield had become a born-again Christian.


North Carolina, USA




For her execution at 2am 2 November 1984 she wore her favourite pink floral-print pyjamas and blue slippers. The death gurney was rolled into her cell where matrons from another prison strapped her to it. The prison’s own matrons had grown too fond of Barfield to assist in the execution.

In the death chamber three syringes were attached to intravenous tubes through a curtain. Three executioners simultaneously pressed the syringe plungers but only two of them were connected to Barfield. This way each of the volunteer executioners could believe it wasn’t him who killed her.

Barfield said, “I want to say sorry for all the hurt that I have caused.” Sodium thiopental was injected to induce a deep sleep, then doses of procuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant followed, stopping her breathing. She was pronounced dead at 2.15am. She attempted to donate her liver, kidneys and eyes for transplant and a team of doctors rushed her body to a local hospital. Ultimately bone, skin and eyes were used.

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