Execution date set for terminally ill prisoner in Alabama

Execution date set for terminally ill prisoner in Alabama

December 13th, 2017 by Associated Press in Breaking News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — An execution date was set Wednesday for a terminally ill inmate in Alabama.

Al.com reports the Alabama Supreme Court set the date for Doyle Lee Hamm, 60, who has spent 30 years on the state's Death Row.

The order says Hamm is scheduled to die on Feb. 22.

Hamm has been at Holman Prison since December 1987 after being convicted in the murder of Patrick Cunningham, an employee of Anderson's Motel in Cullman. Cunningham was killed during a robbery that apparently netted about $410.

In the course of the investigation, Hamm confessed to the murder; in exchange for being allowed to plead guilty to lesser offenses, two accomplices testified against him.

Hamm's lawyer said in a statement Wednesday that his client is terminally ill and that execution would constitute "cruel and unusual punishment," in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Attorney Bernard E. Harcourt, his lawyer and a professor of law and political science at Columbia University, said Hamm has been battling cranial and lymphatic cancer for over three years. Treatment has compromised his veins, and lethal injection would likely cause "cruel and needless pain," according to papers filed by Harcourt, who has represented Hamm since 1990.

"What we're litigating right now is the specific venous protocol for lethal injection as applied to Doyle's situation, given his lymphatic cancer, rather than the general cruelty of the drug cocktail in Alabama," says Harcourt. "Overall, I have to say, it's inhumane to execute somebody who's at the end of his life suffering and battling with cancer."

Harcourt retained Dr. Mark Heath, an anesthesiologist and professor of medicine at Columbia, to examine Hamm in late September. Heath assessed Hamm's condition by using Harcourt's tie as a tourniquet to probe for veins because corrections officials did not allow him to bring medical equipment into the prison.

"There are no accessible veins on (Hamm's) left upper extremity (arm/hand) or either of his lower extremities (legs/feet)," Heath found. Use of one "potentially accessible" vein on Hamm's right hand "would have a high chance of rupturing the vein and being unsuccessful," he added in a written statement Harcourt filed with the court.

The inability of corrections personnel to inject the drugs properly could "cause Mr. Hamm to become paralyzed and consciously suffocate" and would be "an agonizing death," said Heath, whose research has documented problems in the administration of lethal injections nationwide.

Seven percent of lethal injections in the U.S. between 1890 and 2010 were botched, according to data compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center.

Harcourt asked the court to order corrections officials to disclose how they would successfully complete venous access for the execution, to appoint a special master to oversee a proper medical examination in advance, and to approve an agreed-upon protocol to "humanely achieve lethal injection."

Harcourt has fought to have Hamm's death sentence reduced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, arguing, among other things, that Hamm was sentenced based on an unconstitutional prior conviction and after ineffective assistance of counsel. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Hamm's appeal.

In court papers, Harcourt points to the case of David Nelson, a death row inmate in Alabama whose veins were found to be unusable. Heath examined Nelson and testified on his behalf. Nelson's execution was stayed in 2003; he died in prison in 2009.

Hamm's execution is the second one set for 2018.

The Alabama Supreme Court set Jan. 25 for the execution of Vernon Madison, who was convicted of killing a Mobile police officer more than 30 years ago.


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