Alabama fails to complete lethal injection for 3rd time : NPR

This undated photograph provided by the Alabama Department of Corrections shows inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was convicted in the 1988 murder of a preacher’s wife.

Alabama Department of Corrections through APAP

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Alabama Department of Corrections through APAP

This undated photograph provided by the Alabama Department of Corrections shows inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was convicted in the 1988 murder of a preacher’s wife.

Alabama Department of Corrections through APAP

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama’s troubling string of lethal injections, worsened late Thursday when prison officers aborted another execution because of a problem with an intravenous line, is unprecedented. nationwide, a death penalty monitoring group said Friday.

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

A leader at the Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death penalty group with a large database of executions, said no state but Alabama must halt an ongoing execution. since 2017, when Ohio halted lethal injection to Alva Campbell because workers couldn’t find a vein.

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

“So Alabama has canceled more lethal injections in the past few years than the rest of the country as a whole,” she said.

Ndulue said there was clearly something wrong with the state’s enforcement process.

“I think Alabama clearly has some explaining to do, but also some reflection to do about what’s happening in the process,” she said. “The question is whether Alabama takes that seriously.”

The Alabama Department of Corrections countered that the cancellation was reflective of problems. In a statement, it blamed the court’s rescission action for coming late because prison officials “had a short timeframe to complete its protocol.”

Prison officials said they postponed Smith’s execution for the night after they were unable to administer lethal injection within the 100-minute period between the courts clearing the way to begin and the midnight deadline when the death warrant was issued. expires within the day. The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for Smith’s execution when, at around 10:20 p.m., the court lifted the adjournment issued by the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals earlier in the evening. But the state decided about an hour later that the lethal injection would not happen that night.

“We are not concerned about the state’s ability to conduct lethal injection procedures in the future,” the Alabama Department of Corrections said in an emailed statement.

“The department will continue to review its processes, as usual after each implementation, to identify areas for improvement.” Alabama Governor Kay Ivey also blamed Smith’s last-minute appeals as “impossible to do justice.”

U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker Jr. on Friday approved a request from Smith’s attorneys to visit Smith and photograph his body. He also ordered the state to preserve notes and other documents related to what happened during the failed execution. Smith’s attorneys said they believe he may have been tied to a stretcher for four hours although his final appeals are still underway.

“Mr Smith is certainly injured by the attempted execution — and certainly the physical evidence and testimony that should be preserved — can and should be photographed and/or videotaped,” Smith’s attorney wrote.

Smith, who was slated to be executed for the 1988 murder of a preacher’s wife, was returned to death row inmates at Holman Prison after surviving the attempt, a house official said. prison said. His attorney declined to comment on Friday morning.

Corrections Commissioner John Hamm said prison staff struggled for about an hour to connect the two needed intravenous lines to Smith, 57. Hamm said it had set up one line but failed with a second line, which was required under state protocol as a backup. after trying several locations on Smith’s body.

Then, officials tried a central line, which involves a catheter being placed into a large vein. “We couldn’t have time to finish that, so we postponed the execution,” Hamm said.

The initial postponement came after Smith’s final appeals focused on problems with IV lines at Alabama’s last two scheduled lethal injections. Since the death warrant expires at midnight, the state has to go back to court to find a new execution date.

Advocacy groups and defense attorneys say the ongoing problems in Alabama suggest a pause in the investigation into how the death penalty is administered in the state.

“Once again, the state of Alabama has shown that they cannot carry out their current rite of passage without torture,” federal defender John Palombi, who has represented many on death row in the state, said by email. .

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

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

Alabama has faced scrutiny over its problems in recent poison injections. In the ongoing litigation, inmates’ attorneys are seeking information on the qualifications of the execution team members responsible for connecting the lines. During Thursday’s hearing on Smith’s case, a federal judge asked the state if it was too long to try to set up a line, noting that at least one state put in place a one-hour limit.

The execution of Joe Nathan James Jr. in July took several hours to proceed due to problems setting up the IV line, prompting the Reprieve US Forensic Justice Initiative, an anti-death penalty group, to declare the execution unsuccessful.

In September, the state canceled plans to execute Alan Miller because of difficulty accessing his veins. Miller said in court filings that prison officers poked him with needles for more than an hour, and at one point he was hung upright on a stretcher before announcing they would stop. Prison officials have maintained the delay is a result of the state carefully following procedures.

Alabama in 2018 annulled the execution of Doyle Hamm because of an intravenous connection problem. Hamm suffered damage to his veins from lymphoma, hepatitis and past drug use, his attorney said. Hamm later died in prison of natural causes.


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