Alabama pauses executions after third failed lethal injection attempt

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey called for a pause on executions and ordered a “top-down” review of the state’s capital punishment system Monday after an unprecedented third botched lethal injection.

Ivey’s office issued a statement saying she had asked Attorney General Steve Marshall to drop motions seeking execution dates for two inmates and requested that the Department of Corrections conduct a full review of the state’s execution process.

Ivey also requested that Marshall not seek additional execution dates for any other death row inmates until the review is complete.

The move followed Thursday’s incomplete execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith, it was the state’s second case of not being able to execute an inmate in the past two months and the third since 2018. The state did complete an execution in July, but only after a three-hour delay caused at least in part by the same problem with starting an IV line.

Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was convicted in 1988 of the murder-for-hire of a preacher's wife.
Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was convicted in 1988 of the murder-for-hire of a preacher’s wife. AP file

Denying that corrections officers or law enforcement are to blame for the problems, Ivey said that “legal and criminal tactics are at play here that hijack the system.”

“For the sake of the victims and their families, we have to get it right,” he said.

Corrections Commissioner John Hamm said the department is fully committed to the review and is “confident that we can get this right.”

“Everything is on the table, from our legal strategy for dealing with last-minute appeals, to how we train and prepare, to the order and timing of events on execution day, to the staff and equipment involved.” Hamm said in an issued statement. through the governor’s office.

Marshall, the state’s top attorney, did not immediately say whether he would agree to Ivey’s request. The attorney general “read the comments from the governor and the commissioner with interest” and “will have more to say on this at a later date,” spokesman Mike Lewis said.

Alabama Arise, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the poor, said Marshall should agree to a moratorium and urged lawmakers to “do their part to reduce the injustice of Alabama’s death penalty system.”

The Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death penalty group with a large database on executions, said no other state except Alabama has had to stop an execution in progress since 2017, when Ohio halted the execution. lethal injection of Alva Campbell because workers couldn’t find a vein

The organization’s executive director, Robert Dunham, said Ivey was right to seek an investigation and a pause, but any review of the system must be done by someone other than the state prison system. While Ivey blamed defense efforts for the failed executions, Dunham said his “deliberate blindness” to problems in the prison system was part of the problem.

“The Alabama Department of Corrections has a history of denying and misrepresenting the truth about its enforcement failures, and cannot be trusted to meaningfully investigate its own incompetence and misconduct,” he said.

Earlier this year, after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee halted a lethal injection in April because he learned the drugs had not been tested as required, ordered an independent investigation and halted all executions until the end of the year.

the Alabama execution of Joe Nathan James Jr. it took several hours to get going in July due to problems establishing an IV line, prompting the anti-death penalty group Reprieve US Forensic Justice Initiative to claim the execution was botched.

In September, the state stayed the planned execution of alan eugenio miller due to difficulty accessing your veins. Miller said in a court filing that prison staff pricked him with needles for more than an hour and at one point left him hanging upright on a gurney before announcing they were stopping. Prison officials have maintained that the delays were the result of the state carefully following procedures.

Ivey asked the state to drop motions seeking the execution dates of Miller and James Edward Barber, the only two death row inmates with such requests before the Alabama Supreme Court.

Alabama in 2018 called off Doyle Hamm’s execution due to problems connecting the IV line. Hamm had damaged his veins from lymphoma, hepatitis and past drug use, his attorney said. Hamm later died in prison of natural causes.

Alabama should have imposed a moratorium on execution after Hamm’s botched execution for the benefit of all, said Bernard Harcourt, an attorney who represented Hamm for years.

“As a political matter, Governor Ivey mentions only the victims, but these botched executions have been an ordeal for the men on the gurney, their families, friends, ministers and lawyers, and all the men and women who work in the prison and They are involved. in these failed attempts. The trauma of these executions extends widely to everyone they touch,” Harcourt said.

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