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'Botched' execution in Alabama amounted to 'torture', lawyer claims

No vein could be found to administer the lethal injection to 61-year-old Doyle Hamm.

Doyle Lee Hamm
Doyle Lee Hamm

THE LAWYER OF a Death Row inmate whose execution was called off last week has said that the “botched” attempts to administer lethal injection amounted to “torture”.

Execution team members stuck an inmate repeatedly in the lower legs, ankles and groin in effort to find a usable vein before the state called off the lethal injection, according to a court filing by Doyle Hamm’s lawyer Bernard Harcourt.

Harcourt said he is seeking more information about what happened during the attempted execution of his 61-year-old client on Thursday night.

US District Judge Karon Bowdre ordered a medical examination of Hamm and directed the state to maintain material related to the attempt.

Hamm, who has battled lymphoma, was to be executed on Thursday for the 1987 slaying of motel clerk Patrick Cunningham.

However, prison officials announced about 11.30pm that night that they were halting the execution because medical staff did not think they could obtain “the appropriate venous access” before a midnight deadline.

The announcement came about 2 ½ hours after the US Supreme Court cleared the execution to proceed.

The state prison commissioner said the execution was delayed because of a “time issue”.

“I wouldn’t necessarily characterise what we had tonight as a problem… The only indication I have is that in their medical judgment it was more of a time issue given the late hour,” Commissioner Jeff Dunn said on Friday morning.

Harcourt said the execution was botched and that he had argued in court filings since July that lethal injection would be difficult and painful because Hamm’s veins have been severely compromised by lymphoma, hepatitis and prior drug use.

Two execution team members, working on each side of Hamm’s body, tried multiple times to insert the intravenous line on his left and right legs and ankles, and later turned him over and slapped the back of his legs to try to get a vein, Harcourt said. They then tried unsuccessfully to connect the line through his groin, he said.

“He’s in great pain from yesterday evening, physically, from all of the attempts to access his veins in his lower extremities and in his groin,” Harcourt told The Associated Press.

Early Friday, shortly after officials announced that the execution had been halted, Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said the only obstacle to a successful execution was that the team lacked sufficient time.

Dunn said he didn’t know how long the medical team attempted to connect the line. The Alabama attorney general’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Harcourt asked Bowdre to let the physician who conducted Hamm’s medical exam to review the notes state officials took during the attempted execution.

He argued that the lapse of more than two hours before the state halted the execution was a sign that something was wrong. The past four executions in the state began about an hour after final permission was given from the US Supreme Court.

Records from Georgia show that it typically takes that state less than 20 minutes to prepare an inmate for lethal injection, although there have been exceptions. In 2016, it took more than an hour to prepare a 72-year-old inmate when staff were unable to insert an IV in one arm and ended up connecting to a vein in his groin.

Alabama carries out executions by lethal injection unless an inmate requests the electric chair.

Hamm was convicted in the 1987 killing of motel clerk Patrick Cunningham. Cunningham was shot once in the head while working an overnight shift at a Cullman motel. Police said $410 was taken during the robbery.

Hamm gave police a confession and he was convicted after two accomplices testified against him in exchange for being allowed to plead guilty to lesser offenses, according to court documents.

With reporting from Sean Murray

Read: Death row prisoner who hired hitman to kill his family given last-minute reprieve

Read: Florida killer yells ‘murderers!’ as he is put to death

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