MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s troubled series of lethal injections, which worsened late Thursday as prison workers halted another execution because of a problem with intravenous lines, is unprecedented nationally, a monitoring group said Friday. the death penalty.
The pending execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith was the second such case of the state failing to execute 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 one partly from the same problem as 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 other than Alabama has had to halt an execution in progress since 2017, when Ohio stopped it. Alva Campbell’s lethal injection because workers couldn’t help but 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 had more lethal injection abortions in recent years than the rest of the country combined,” he said.
Apparently something went wrong with the state’s execution process, Ndulue said.
“I think Alabama clearly has some explaining to do, but also some thinking to do about what’s going wrong in their enforcement process,” he said. “The question is whether Alabama is going to take it seriously.”
The Alabama Department of Corrections disputed that the cancellation was a reflection of problems. In a statement, she blamed delayed court action for the cancellation because prison officials “had a short period of time to complete their protocol.”
Corrections officials said they halted Smith’s execution for the night after failing to administer the lethal injection within the 100-minute window between court hearings clearing the way for him to begin and a midnight deadline when the death warrant for the day. The US Supreme Court cleared the way for Smith’s execution when at about 10:20 p.m. it lifted a stay issued earlier in the evening by the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals. But the state decided about an hour later that the lethal injection would not take place that night.
“We have no concerns about the state’s ability to conduct future lethal injection procedures,” the Alabama Department of Corrections said in an emailed statement.
“The department will continue to review its procedures, as it typically does after each execution, to identify areas for improvement.” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey also blamed Smith’s last-minute appeals as the reason “justice could not be served.”
U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker Jr. on Friday granted a request from Smith’s attorneys to visit Smith and photograph his body. He also ordered the state to preserve notes and other materials related to what happened in the botched execution. Smith’s lawyers said they believed he may have been tied up in a wardrobe for four hours, even though his latest appeals were still pending.
“Mr. Smith undoubtedly has injuries from the attempted execution – and certainly physical and evidentiary evidence to preserve – that can and should be photographed and/or filmed,” Smith’s lawyers wrote.
Smith, who was to be sentenced to death for the hit-and-run killing of a preacher’s wife in 1988, was returned to death in Holman Prison after surviving the attempt, a prison official said. 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 many positions on Smith’s body.
Next, officials tried a central line, which involves a catheter placed in a large vein. “We didn’t have time to complete it, so we canceled the execution,” Hamm said.
The original postponement came after Smith’s final appeals focused on problems with IV lines in Alabama’s last two scheduled lethal injections. Because the death warrant expired at midnight, the state must return to court to seek a new execution date.
Advocacy groups and defense attorneys said Alabama’s ongoing problems point to the need for a moratorium on investigating how the state’s death penalty is carried out.
“Once again, the state of Alabama has demonstrated that it is unable to carry out the present execution protocol without torture,” federal defender John Palobi, who has represented many death row inmates in the state, said by email.
Prosecutors said Smith was one of two men paid $1,000 each to kill Elizabeth Sennett on behalf of her husband, who was deeply in debt and wanted to collect the security deposit. The killing — and revelations about who was behind it — shocked the small north 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 recent lethal injection problems. In the ongoing trial, attorneys for the inmates are seeking information about the qualifications of the execution team members responsible for connecting the lines. At a hearing Thursday in Smith’s case, a federal judge asked the state how long was too long to try to establish a line, noting that at least one state gives a time limit.
The execution of Joe Nathan James Jr. in July took several hours to begin due to problems setting up an IV line, prompting the Reprieve US Forensic Justice Initiative, an anti-death penalty group, to claim the execution failed.
In September, the state canceled Alan Miller’s scheduled execution due to difficulty accessing his veins. Miller said in a court filing that prison staff poked him with needles for more than an hour and at one point left him hanging vertically from a wardrobe before announcing they were stopping. Corrections officials argued that the delays were a result of the state’s close monitoring of procedures.
Alabama in 2018 suspended the execution of Doyle Hamm due to IV line connection problems. Hamm had damaged veins from lymphoma, hepatitis and past drug use, his lawyer said. Ham later died in prison of natural causes.
Reeves reported from Birmingham, Alabama.
More of AP’s coverage of executions can be found at https://apnews.com/hub/executions