The State of Alabama is scheduled to execute 61-year-old Doyle Hamm tonight. He has spent 30 years on death row and is terminally ill.
Mr. Hamm was convicted of capital murder in the fatal shooting of a hotel clerk in 1987 in Cullman County, Alabama. He was sentenced to death after his trial lawyer called only two witnesses at his sentencing trial and presented less than 20 minutes of testimony.
In February 2014, Mr. Hamm was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer and carcinoma. As a distinguished group of Alabama jurists and state bar association presidents wrote in a letter asking Governor Kay Ivey to halt Mr. Hamm’s execution:
Mr. Hamm has been very ill for a number of years. As a result of his condition and the treatment of it, his veins are not accessible in the way that is required for the humane implementation of Alabama’s lethal injection protocol . . . Alabama adopted lethal injection as its method of execution because it is deemed to be a relatively painless process. Whether that is ever the case for any condemned person, it is highly unlikely to be true for Mr. Hamm.
Mr. Hamm requested an oral injection due to the poor condition of his veins, and a federal court stayed Mr. Hamm’s execution after hearing evidence from medical experts. But the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and ordered an expedited physical examination of Mr. Hamm, which revealed that Doyle Hamm’s veins in his upper extremities were indeed compromised.
The district court required the State to agree to only attempt to access the veins in his lower extremities and precluded Mr. Hamm’s counsel from presenting any evidence to establish that this novel specialized protocol would present significant risks of an unnecessarily painful execution.
Mr. Hamm appealed, and this afternoon, the Eleventh Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision allowing the State to execute Mr. Hamm by lethal injection. Mr. Hamm appealed to the Supreme Court, and it denied Mr. Hamm’s request for a stay over two dissents. Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sotomayor, wrote in dissent:
The District Court and Eleventh Circuit erroneously premised their rejection of Hamm’s claims on novel understandings about how Hamm’s execution would be carried out—understandings gleaned from a stipulation and an affidavit to which Hamm was given no opportunity to respond. An adversarial process should have tested the risk of “serious illness and needless suffering” . . . presented by the insertion of intravenous catheters into Hamm’s leg or central veins. That method of execution, although it fits within the compass of the State’s execution protocol, has, by all accounts before us, never been tried before in Alabama.
Also, Justice Breyer wrote an opinion saying that he believes the Supreme Court should consider whether the death penalty is constitutional.
UPDATE: Shortly before midnight, prison officials announced the execution would not be carried out tonight.