Alabama postpones execution of inmate with damaged veins

(File, AFP)
(File, AFP)

Montgomery — Alabama on Thursday halted the execution of an inmate who had argued that his veins were too damaged for lethal injection, because medical staff did not think they could connect the intravenous line by the time the death warrant expired at midnight.

Alabama Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said the prison system halted Doyle Lee Hamm's execution around 23:30 "out of an abundance of caution" after medical staff said they did not think they could obtain "the appropriate venous access" before midnight.

"It was a time issue," Dunn said. "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."

Bernard Harcourt, a law school professor representing Hamm, said the state should be "ashamed".

"This is exactly what I have been saying since July. Since July, I have been telling the state of Alabama that Doyle Lee Hamm does not have adequate veins for a lethal injection," Harcourt said.

The US Supreme Court ruled at 21:00 on Thursday that Hamm's execution could proceed.

Diagnosed with cancer

Dunn said he was informed after 23:00 about concerns that the preparations could not be completed by midnight. Dunn said he did not know how long the medical team attempted to connect the line.

Hamm was scheduled to be executed for the 1987 slaying of a motel clerk. He was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma in 2014.

Harcourt said there was evidence the blood cancer had progressed, while the state contended he was in remission.

State prison officials told courts last week that they intended to connect the line below Hamm's knee after a medical review ordered by a federal judge found that he had no easily usable veins in his upper extremities. The state in court filings had expressed confidence that Hamm had usable veins.

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.

Other executions

Executions were also scheduled to take place on Thursday in Texas and Florida.

ALSO READ: Texas man's execution halted amid alleged confession scheme

In Florida, Eric Scott Branch, 47, was pronounced dead at 19:05 on Thursday after a lethal injection at Florida State Prison.

Branch was convicted of the rape and fatal beating of University of West Florida student Susan Morris, 21, whose naked body was found buried in a shallow grave near a nature trail.

Branch was sentenced under Florida's old capital punishment system, which was ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court.

However, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the state's new system of sentencing does not apply to inmates sentenced to death before 2002.

In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott accepted the recommendation of the state's parole board and granted clemency for Thomas "Bart" Whitaker, on death row for masterminding the fatal shootings of his mother and brother at their suburban Houston home in 2003.

Whitaker's father, Kent, says he forgives his son, and the state parole board recommended that Abbott commute the sentence to life in prison.

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