Alabama fails to complete lethal injection for third time

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Alabama’s troubled series of lethal injections, which escalated late Thursday as prison workers halted another execution due to a problem with IV lines, is unprecedented in the United States. nationwide, a group that tracks capital punishment said on Friday.

The unfinished execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith was the second example of the state’s failure to kill an inmate in the past two months and the third since 2018. The state completed an execution in July, but only after a three hour delay caused at least in part by the same problem with starting an IV line.

An executive from the Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death penalty group with a large database of executions, said no state other than Alabama had to halt an execution in progress since 2017, when Ohio halted Alva Campbell’s lethal injection because workers couldn’t find a vein.

Kenneth Eugene Smith was convicted in 1988 of the murder-for-hire of a preacher’s wife.

According to Ngozi Ndulue, deputy director of the Washington-based group, the only other lethal injection stopped before an inmate died also took place in Ohio, in 2009.

“So Alabama has more aborted lethal injections in recent years than the rest of the country as a whole,” she said. Something clearly went wrong with the state execution process, Ndulue said.

“I think Alabama clearly has some explaining to do, but also some thinking about what’s wrong with their enforcement process,” she said. “The question is whether Alabama is going to take this seriously.”

The Alabama Department of Corrections disputed that the cancellation reflected problems. In a statement, he blamed the late legal action for the cancellation because prison officials “had little time to complete his protocol.”

Prison officials said they had called off Smith’s execution for the night after they were unable to initiate the lethal injection within the 100-minute window between the courts clearing the way for it to begin and a date midnight limit when the death warrant has expired for the day. The United States Supreme Court paved the way for Smith’s execution when, around 10:20 p.m., it lifted a stay issued earlier that evening by the United States 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. But the state decided about an hour later that the lethal injection would not take place that evening.

“We have no concerns about the state’s ability to complete future lethal injection procedures,” the Alabama Department of Corrections said in an emailed statement.

“The department will continue to review its processes, as it does regularly after each run, to identify areas for improvement.” Alabama Governor Kay Ivey also blamed Smith’s last-minute appeals as the reason “justice could not be served.”

On Friday, U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker Jr. granted a request from Smith’s attorneys to visit Smith and take photos of his body. He also ordered the state to keep notes and other documents related to what happened during the failed execution. Smith’s lawyers said they believe he may have been tied to a stretcher for four hours, although his final calls were still ongoing.

“Mr. Smith undoubtedly has injuries resulting from the attempted execution – and certainly physical and testimonial evidence that must be preserved – which can and should be photographed and/or filmed,” Smith’s attorneys wrote.

Smith, who was to be put to death for the 1988 murder-for-hire of a preacher’s wife, was returned to death row at Holman prison after surviving the attempt, a police official said. jail. His lawyers declined to comment Friday morning.

Corrections Commissioner John Hamm said prison staff tried for about an hour to connect the two required IV lines to Smith, 57. after trying several places on Smith’s body.

Officials then tried a central line, which involves a catheter placed into a large vein. “We didn’t have time to finish that, so we canceled the execution,” Hamm said.

The initial postponement came after Smith’s latest calls focused on problems with IV lines during the last two scheduled lethal injections in Alabama. Because the death warrant expired at midnight, the state must return to court to seek a new execution date.

Advocacy groups and defense attorneys have said Alabama’s continuing problems point to the need for a moratorium to investigate how the death penalty is carried out in the state.

“Once again, the State of Alabama has shown that it is not capable of enforcing the current execution protocol without torture,” federal defender John Palombi, who represented many death row inmates in the state.

Prosecutors said Smith was one of two men who each paid $1,000 to kill Elizabeth Sennett on behalf of her husband, who was deeply in debt and wanted to collect the insurance. The murder — and revelations of who was behind it — shook the small northern Alabama community where it happened in Colbert County and inspired a song called “The Fireplace Poker,” by the Southern rock band Drive-By Truckers.

John Forrest Parker, the other man convicted of the murder, was executed in 2010.

Alabama has come under scrutiny for its issues in recent lethal injections. As part of an ongoing litigation, the inmates’ lawyers are seeking information on the qualifications of the execution team members responsible for connecting the lines. During a Thursday hearing in the Smith case, a federal judge asked the state how long was too long to try to draw a line, noting that at least one state gives an hour limit.

The execution of Joe Nathan James Jr. in July took several hours to start due to problems establishing an IV line, leading Reprieve US Forensic Justice Initiative, an anti-death penalty group, to claim that the execution had been botched.

In September, the state canceled the scheduled execution of Alan Miller due to difficulties accessing his veins. Miller said in a court filing that prison staff pricked him with needles for more than an hour and at one point left him hanging vertically on a stretcher before announcing that they were stopping. Prison officials argued that the delays were the result of the state’s scrupulous adherence to procedures.

Alabama in 2018 canceled Doyle Hamm’s execution due to IV line connection issues. Hamm had damaged veins from lymphoma, hepatitis and past drug use, his attorney said. Hamm later died in prison of natural causes.

Reeves reported from Birmingham, Alabama.


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