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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Attorneys seek information on aborted Alabama execution

Court file photo showing Doyle Lee Hamm's veins
After an aborted lethal injection in which lawyers contend a condemned prisoner endured 2 1/2 hours of medical staff trying to access his veins, a federal judge on Friday ordered Alabama to maintain records about the incident.

U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre issued the order in response to a request from Doyle Lee Hamm's attorneys who say they want to know more about what happened during the attempt to execute him.

Hamm, who has battled lymphoma, was to be executed Thursday for the 1987 murder of a hotel clerk. However, prison officials announced at about 11:30 p.m. Thursday that they were halting the execution because medical staff did not think they could obtain "the appropriate venous access" before a midnight deadline. The announcement came about 2 1/2 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court had cleared the execution to proceed.

The state prison commissioner said the execution was delayed because of a "time issue" while an attorney for Hamm argued that the execution was botched and the state should be "ashamed" for what happened.

Bernard Harcourt, who represents Hamm, said he had argued in court filings that lethal injection would be difficult and painful because Hamm's veins have been severely compromised by lymphoma, hepatitis and prior drug use.

"He's in great pain from yesterday evening, physically, from all of the attempts to access his veins in his lower extremities and in his groin," Harcourt told The Associated Press.

Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn early Friday morning disagreed that there was a problem with the execution.

"It was a time issue," Dunn said. "I wouldn't necessarily characterize what we had tonight as a problem. ... The only indication I have is that in their medical judgment it was more of a time issue given the late hour."

Bowdre had scheduled a hearing for Monday, but later canceled it.

Dunn said he didn't know how long the medical team attempted to connect the line. The Alabama attorney general's office didn't respond to a request for comment about the delayed execution.

Hamm's attorney argued that the lapse of more than 2 hours before the state halted the execution was a sign that something was wrong. The last 4 executions in the state began about an hour after final permission was given from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Records from Georgia show that it typically takes that state less than 20 minutes to prepare an inmate for lethal injection, although there have been exceptions. In 2016, it took more than an hour to prepare a 72-year-old inmate when staff were unable to insert an IV in one arm and ended up connecting to a vein in his groin.

A medical review ordered by Bowdre found that the veins in Hamm's upper body would require a doctor and guided ultrasound, but that he has usable veins in his lower body. The Alabama attorney general's office had assured the courts in earlier court filings, as Hamm attempted to block his execution, that it could conduct the execution by connecting the intravenous line to usable veins in Hamm's lower leg.

Alabama carries out executions by lethal injection unless an inmate requests the electric chair.

Hamm was convicted in the 1987 killing of motel clerk Patrick Cunningham. Cunningham was shot once in the head while working an overnight shift at a Cullman motel. Police said $410 was taken during the robbery. Hamm gave police a confession and he was convicted after 2 accomplices testified against him in exchange for being allowed to plead guilty to lesser offenses, according to court documents.

Executions were also scheduled to take place Thursday in Texas and Florida.

In Florida, Eric Scott Branch , 47, was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. Thursday after a lethal injection at Florida State Prison. Branch was convicted of the rape and fatal beating of University of West Florida student Susan Morris, 21.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott accepted the recommendation of the state's parole board and granted clemency for Thomas "Bart" Whitaker , on death row for masterminding the fatal shootings of his mother and brother at their suburban Houston home in 2003.

Source: Associated Press, February, 2018


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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