BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) – Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey called for a pause in executions and on Monday ordered a “top-down” review of the state’s capital punishment system after an unprecedented third lethal injection.
Ivey’s office released a statement saying she had both asked Attorney General Steve Marshall to withdraw motions seeking execution dates for two inmates and requested that the Department of Corrections undertake a full review of the state enforcement process.
Ivey also asked Marshall not to seek additional execution dates for other death row inmates until the review is complete.
The move follows Thursday’s unfinished execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith, which was the second example of the state’s failure to put an inmate to death in the past two months and the third since 2018. The state has completed a run in July, but only after a three-hour delay caused at least in part by the same problem with starting an IV line.
Denying that prison authorities or law enforcement are to blame for the problems, Ivey said “legal tactics and criminals hijacking the system are at play here”.
“For the sake of the victims and their families, we have to get it right,” she said.
Corrections Commissioner John Hamm said the department was fully engaged in the review and was “confident we can get it right”.
“Everything is on the table – from our legal strategy for handling last-minute calls, to how we train and prepare, to the order and timing of events on execution day, to the staff and equipment involved,” Hamm said in a statement. by the governor’s office.
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Marshall “read the governor’s and commissioner’s comments with interest” and “will have more to say about this at a later date,” said Mike Lewis, spokesman for the attorney general.
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.
The organization’s executive director, Robert Dunham, said Ivey was right to call for an investigation and a pause, but any review of the system must be done by someone other than the state prison system. While Ivey blamed defense efforts for the execution failures, Dunham said his “willful blindness” to the woes of the prison system was part of the problem.
“The Alabama Department of Corrections has a history of denying and distorting the truth about its execution failures, and it cannot be trusted to meaningfully investigate its own incompetence and wrongdoing” , did he declare.
Earlier this year, after Tennessee Governor Bill Lee halted a lethal injection in April because he learned the drugs had not been tested as required, he ordered an independent investigation and suspended all executions until the end of the year.
The execution of Joe Nathan James Jr. in Alabama took several hours to start in July due to problems establishing an IV line, leading anti-death penalty group Reprieve US Forensic Justice Initiative to claim that the execution had been botched.
In September, the state canceled the scheduled execution of Alan Eugene Miller due to difficulty 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.
Ivey asked the state to withdraw petitions seeking execution dates for Miller and James Edward Barber, the only two death row inmates with such petitions in the Alabama Supreme Court.
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.
Alabama should have imposed a moratorium on executions after Hamm’s failed execution for everyone’s benefit, said Bernard Harcourt, an attorney who represented Hamm for years.
“Politically, Governor Ivey only mentions the victims, but these botched executions were hardships for the men on the stretcher, their families, friends, ministers and lawyers, and all the men and women working at the prison and involved. in these failed attempts. The trauma of these executions extends far and wide to everyone they affect,” Harcourt said.