Alabama delays murderer's execution indefinitely after legal challenge
An Alabama killer slated for execution won a last-minute death row reprieve Thursday after arguing that his terminal cancer and past drug use would make the lethal injection unconstitutionally painful.
Doyle Lee Hamm, 61, was scheduled to be put to death at 6 p.m. for the 1987 slaying of motel clerk Patrick Cunningham in Cullman, Ala. Prosecutors said Hamm shot Cunningham in the head while he was working an overnight shift during a robbery in which $410 was taken.
Bernard Harcourt, a Columbia University law professor who represents Hamm, said there is a likelihood that an injection could lead to a bungled execution, as Hamm’s lymphatic cancer has caused abnormal-sized lymph nodes throughout his body.
“We’ve passed the point of ghoulish justice,” Harcourt told the Daily News on Thursday. “We are at the point of human sacrifice.”
Harcourt wrote in a filing that Hamm’s health problems increase the “chances of a botched, painful, and bloody execution.”
Just minutes before Hamm’s execution was to get underway, the Supreme Court handed down a temporary stay in order to consider his appeal.
Hours later, Alabama officials called off the procedure because the state had “insufficient time to prepare the inmate,” prisons spokesman Bob Horton said.
By late evening, Hamm had been returned to a holding cell, and is set to receive a follow-up medical exam Friday morning, Alabama corrections chief Jeff Dunn told AL.com.
“I wouldn’t necessarily characterize what we had tonight as a problem … in their medical judgment it was more of a time issue, given the late hour,” Dunn said.
“They probably could not find a vein, as we had insisted since July,” Harcourt tweeted after prison officials called off the injection. “Unconscionable.”
The state had said it was willing to adjust the injection process by connecting an intravenous line to Hamm’s legs or feet.
“Not only is (the process) different, it’s unprecedented, and it’s never been done in Alabama,” Harcourt told The News. “It does not protect him from a tortuous death.”
Before the Supreme Court intervened, Alabama’s 11th Circuit Court of Appeals asked the state to make sure an “advanced level practitioner” and ultrasound technology are available and used at the execution.
The state of Alabama responded to the 11th Circuit by saying a doctor would be present. A doctor is always “present” to pronounce death, according to Harcourt, but never in the chamber during the execution.
“The warden told them, ‘Don’t worry guys, we got this,'” said Harcourt, who grew up in New York City.
The state says it will connect an intravenous line to Hamm’s legs or feet.
The attorney believes the state’s response was a slap in the face of the 11th Circuit.
The International Commission Against the Death Penalty and the United Nations Special Rapporteurs also said the execution would be equivalent to torture.
“We call on you, noting (Hamm’s) long imprisonment facing the death penalty and his extremely frail condition following his cancer, to allow Mr. Hamm to serve the rest of his life in prison,” reads a letter from the ICDP, according to AL.com.
“We believe that carrying out Mr. Hamm’s execution, given his serious medical condition, is unconscionable and represents a serious erosion of your state’s proud tradition of compassion and of respecting and protecting human dignity.”
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall rejected a bid to stop the execution on Wednesday, emphasizing in a Facebook video that Hamm had committed a “heinous act” when he killed Cunningham, a husband and father.
“Doyle Hamm received due process and more,” Marshall said.
The state also claims that Hamm is in remission, according to Vice News.
Hamm was one of three death row inmates scheduled to be executed in three different states Thursday.
- Join the Conversation: