‘Botched and bloody’: Lawyer says inmate’s aborted execution was ‘torture’

Doyle Lee Hamm

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A federal judge has ordered Alabama prison officials to preserve all evidence related to an aborted execution, including the clothing the inmate wore, following an unsuccessful lethal injection attempt that the convict’s attorney described as “botched and bloody.”

WARNING: Story contains graphic details.

Chief US District Judge Karon Bowdre of the Northern District of Alabama also ordered corrections officials to allow for a full medical examination of inmate Doyle Lee Hamm, 61, whose execution last Thursday was called off about 2 1/2 hours after he was taken into the death chamber, court documents show.

Hamm’s attorney, Bernard Harcourt, wrote Sunday in a blog post following a physician’s two-hour exam of his client that “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.”

“He has pain going from the lower abdomen to the upper thigh,” Harcourt wrote, noting more than 10 puncture wounds. “He is limping badly now and terribly sore.”

Hamm on Tuesday was back on death row in solitary confinement, Harcourt told CNN, adding that a doctor’s report of the exam would be filed by Wednesday.

“Physically, he’s sore,” Harcourt said of his client. “Emotionally, he’s traumatized.”

‘More of a time issue,’ prison chief says

Harcourt had argued for months that killing his client by lethal injection would amount to “cruel and unusual punishment” because Hamm’s veins had become severely compromised by lymphatic cancer and “years of intravenous drug use,” court records show.

Hamm “also has Hepatitis C, a history of seizures and epilepsy (and) multiple significant head injuries,” Harcourt wrote in court pleadings.

Execution team members late Thursday stuck Hamm repeatedly in the lower legs, ankles and groin before the state called off the procedure, Harcourt stated in court documents.

“This went beyond ghoulish justice and cruel and unusual punishment,” Harcourt, a Columbia Law School professor, is quoted in an online post on his law school website. “It was torture.”

Corrections officials, however, denied any “problem” with the procedure, saying they halted it when they ran out of time to complete the protocol before a midnight deadline.

“I wouldn’t necessarily characterize what we had tonight as a problem,” Jeff Dunn, Alabama Department of Corrections commissioner, told reporters shortly after the execution was stopped. “The only indication I have is that in their medical judgment it was more of a time issue, given the late hour.”

Joy Patterson of the Alabama’s attorney general’s office declined to comment on the case. The next hearing is set for March 6.

Attorney says he requested oral injection

Hamm’s case follows difficult executions in other states, including Oklahoma and Arizona, that have raised questions about the humanity and appropriateness of lethal injections.

Injecting a fatal combination of drugs into a convict’s bloodstream is the primary means of execution in all 31 states that exercise capital punishment. Since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 after a suspension of several years, 1,469 people have been executed in the United States — all but 175 by lethal injection — according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Hamm has been on death row nearly half his life. He was convicted and sentenced to death in the 1987 killing of motel clerk Patrick Cunningham. Two accomplices testified against him in exchange for reduced sentences, Harcourt said.

Alabama carries out executions by lethal injections unless an inmate requests the electric chair, an option Hamm declined, according to court records.

Harcourt said he had asked the court to allow Hamm to die by oral injection of a “lethal drug cocktail … that will eliminate the significant likelihood of pain and suffering associated with an intravenous injection in Mr. Hamm’s case,” court documents show.

That request was denied, the lawyer told CNN.

“The court’s independent experts said, ‘It would be a piece of cake’ to get into his veins,” Harcourt said. “As I predicted, it was a botched and bloody mess.”

“Doyle collapsed when he was unstrapped,” Harcourt added. “Basically, he said he wanted it to be over with — he wanted to die rather than that continue going on.”

Attorney general supports execution

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall tweeted that petitions calling for the halt of Hamm’s execution painted an unfairly sympathetic picture of the inmate.

In a video posted on Twitter, Marshall described the circumstances surrounding Hamm’s crime and said the court was satisfied that any concerns about the method of execution had been met.

In earlier court filings, Marshall’s office argued that Hamm had waited too long to challenge Alabama’s method of execution and had failed to present proof that his medical condition had deteriorated.

The execution try began after the US Supreme Court declined to issue a stay.

A new execution date has not been set, said Samantha Banks, public information specialist at the Alabama Department of Corrections.