Last Thursday, the state of Alabama attempted to execute Doyle Lee Hamm. Hamm, whom we have written about in the past, suffers from a myriad of medical issues, including acute lymphatic cancer. His long-time attorney, Bernard Harcourt, has been arguing for months that because treatment for his cancer has compromised Hamm’s veins, attempting an execution via lethal injection would be cruel and unusual – and likely unsuccessful. It appears that Harcourt was correct. Hamm spent more than two and a half hours in the death chamber on Thursday night, yet he is still alive.
What exactly happened on the night of February 22nd? In the words of Alabama Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn, “I wouldn’t necessarily characterize what we had tonight as a problem.” In the words of Hamm’s attorney, Bernard Harcourt, “This was a bit of butchery that can only be described as torture.”
Hamm was given an execution date on December 13th, 2017 – the day he was supposed to be in surgery to remove multiple cancerous tumors. Instead, his surgery was canceled and the warden read him his death warrant. District Court Judge Karen Bowdre granted a stay of execution on January 31st; that stay was vacated after an emergency appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on February 13th, and a medical examination of Hamm was ordered. The results showed that Hamm did not have any usable veins in his hands and arms – the standard locations for lethal injections – but that his lower extremities had workable venous access. In an unprecedented move, Bowdre ordered that the execution could proceed if only Hamm’s legs and feet were used.
On the night of the scheduled execution, two hours after the procedure had been scheduled to begin, a last-minute appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States was denied. From approximately 9 to 11 30 PM, it was unclear to those outside of the death chamber what was happening. The details are horrific. Harcourt writes:
“While he was strapped down arms and legs to the gurney, the IV personnel simultaneously worked on both legs at the same time, probing his flesh and inserting needles. The IV personnel almost certainly punctured Doyle’s bladder, because he was urinating blood for the next day. They may have hit his femoral artery as well, because suddenly there was a lot of blood gushing out. There were multiple puncture wounds on the ankles, calf, and right groin area, around a dozen. They were grinding a needle in his shin area for many minutes, painfully. He seems to have 6 puncture marks in his right groin, and large bruising and swelling in the groin.”
“This attempted execution clearly demonstrates the cruelty and the torture of the death penalty,” said SCHR Executive Director Sara Totonchi. “It is unconscionable. Our hearts go out to everyone involved in this macabre display: from Mr. Hamm and his family and defense team, to the victim’s family, to the correctional officers.”