Lawyer calls aborted execution attempt for inmate ‘torture’

Armed with a court order, a doctor will examine an Alabama death-row inmate on Sunday for signs of injury or suffering sustained during an aborted execution last week.

Prison officials said they called off a lethal injection for Doyle Lee Hamm, convicted in the 1987 murder of a hotel clerk, on Thursday night because they didn’t have enough time to carry it out before a death warrant expired at midnight.

“I wouldn’t necessarily characterize what we had tonight as a problem,” Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn told reporters, blaming last-minute appeals for the delay.


But Hamm’s attorney said the execution attempt was badly botched, with the prison team repeatedly jabbing the cancer survivor in the legs with needles in a futile effort to find a usable vein.

Doyle Lee Hamm's execution was called off Thursday. Alabama Department of Corrections via AP

The two members of the IV team — each working on a different side of the body — flipped Hamm onto his stomach to search for access points on the back of his leg, lawyer Bernard Harcourt said a statement.

When that failed, Harcourt said in court papers, the IV team tried to place what’s known as a central line into a larger vein.

“Multiple times, they tried to insert a catheter into Doyle Hamm’s right groin, causing severe bleeding and pain,” Harcourt wrote.

When Harcourt was able to meet with his client Friday afternoon, Hamm was bruised and limping, the lawyer said.

“This went beyond ghoulish justice and cruel and unusual punishment,” Harcourt, a Columbia Law professor, said in a statement. “It was torture.”

Catching up before going into Holman Prison Sunday morning with Dr. Mark Heath to conduct medical exam of the butchery. Came across these pictures of family friends and counsel after botched execution was done at 11:30PM Thursday night. Doyle’s brother Danny is there.

— Bernard E. Harcourt (@BernardHarcourt) February 25, 2018

Harcourt went to federal court and convinced a judge to order a medical exam for Hamm, who has been on death row for 30 years.

The lawyer also wanted to examine the execution chamber and the notes prison workers took during the procedure, but the judge turned him down.


She did, however, order the Department of Corrections to preserve the notes and any other material from the execution try, including the clothing Hamm was wearing.

All prisoners have a constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment, with the courts deciding if a particular execution is likely to violate that.

Before Thursday, Harcourt had warned that due to Hamm’s history of drug abuse and his illnesses, it would be impossible to find good veins to deliver the deadly drugs.

A judge ruled the execution could proceed as long as the IV wasn’t inserted in Hamm’s arms. The U.S. Supreme Court, with three justices dissenting, then declined to stop the lethal injection.

“Tomorrow I will not request that Doyle Hamm’s execution be stopped, but instead I will ask that justice be served.”

—Attorney General Steve Marshall, Message on the Execution of the Doyle Hamm

— AG Steve Marshall (@AGSteveMarshall) February 21, 2018

Prison officials have given few details about what went on in the death chamber before Hamm got a reprieve, and they did not respond to a request for comment this weekend.

A new execution date has not been set, but Dunn told reporters Thursday that he did not think the trouble the team had finding a vein would prevent the state from killing Hamm in the future.

“The only indication I have is that in their medical judgement it was more of a time issue, given the late hour,” he said.

Three months ago, Ohio called off the execution of Alva Campbell after the medical team tried for 30 minutes to find a good vein without success.

And in 2009, another Ohio inmate, Romell Broom, was spared after the execution worked for two hours to insert a needle. In appeals, he’s argued a second attempt would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

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