April 11, 2018

Alabama Agrees Not to Seek Execution of Doyle Hamm After Failed Attempt

Laura Schaefer, Staff Attorney

On February 22, 2018, the state of Alabama attempted to execute 61-year old Doyle Lee Hamm via lethal injection despite repeated warnings from his longtime attorney—Columbia Law Professor Bernard Harcourt—that his veins were too degraded from sickness and intravenous drug use to tolerate the procedure. At the time of the botched execution attempt, Hamm had been on death row 31 years for the robbery-murder of motel clerk Patrick Cunningham in Cullman County, Alabama. During that time, Hamm developed lymphatic cancer and was treated with radiation, which—together with his past drug use—compromised the peripheral veins in his extremities and access to his arteries. On this basis, Hamm sought stays of execution from a federal district court in Alabama, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court. Hamm argued that given his physical condition, any lethal injection attempt would amount to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Glossip v. Gross, 135 S. Ct. 2726 (2015)—which held that prisoners challenging lethal injection on Eighth Amendment grounds would have to offer another “known and available” method of execution to proceed with a legal challenge—Hamm argued that Alabama should permit him to receive the lethal drugs via “oral injection.” Such a method was not available to Hamm under the state’s execution protocol, however; and on February 22, the Supreme Court denied Hamm’s final appeal over written dissent by Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor. Hamm was brought into the execution chamber at around 9:00pm the evening of February 22, and nearly three hours later, counsel was notified that the execution would not proceed. The Department of Corrections held a press conference a few minutes later, stating that because the execution warrant was set to expire at midnight—and because preparations for the execution were taking longer than expected—there was no longer enough time to complete the process. Later, Hamm’s attorney discovered that the execution team had attempted to place IV and central lines for over two hours before calling off the execution. Hamm suffered multiple bruises and contusions as a result of the botched procedure, and he filed a civil rights lawsuit against the State on March 5. On March 26, 2018, Hamm entered into a “confidential settlement agreement” with the State of Alabama that “resolved all of the state and federal litigation” still pending. A press release from Hamm’s attorney indicated that the settlement will put an end to efforts by the state to set another execution date.

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Related Resources:

Read the legal filings in Hamm’s case.

Laura Schaefer, Staff Attorney