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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Alabama Death Row inmate who survived execution date asks judge to halt future attempts

Doyle Lee Hamm
An Alabama Death Row inmate who survived a lethal injection execution attempt last month is asking a federal judge to block the state from trying a second time to kill him.

Doyle Lee Hamm's attorney stated in federal court documents filed Monday that Hamm was "tortured," citing a doctor's exam of the inmate following the Feb. 22 failed execution. That exam showed 11 puncture marks, according to the doctor's report.

"The defendants (Department of Corrections) acted deliberately in the face of numerous and fair warnings when, after months of litigation that put the defendants on notice about Doyle Hamm's medical conditions, they nonetheless attempted and failed to accomplish intravenous lethal injection, thereby subjecting Doyle Hamm to several torturous and traumatic hours in the execution chamber." Bernard E. Harcourt, professor of law and political science at Columbia University in New York and Hamm's long-time attorney, stated in the complaint.

"To attempt another execution, particularly in light of the torturous circumstances inflicted on Doyle Hamm during the first attempt, would be cruel and unusual, and thus unconstitutional," Harcourt states. To try again also would violate Hamm's rights against double jeopardy, he adds.

Harcourt states that the failed execution didn't happen by accident because they had warned the DOC and court for months that Hamm's veins were too weak for a lethal injection. A federal judge had ruled that the DOC could only use veins in Hamm's lower extremities before the execution attempt - a process the state had never tried.

Hamm, 61, who was convicted of killing Cullman hotel clerk Patrick Cunningham in January 1987, has lymphatic cancer and carcinoma and also has Hepatitis C, a history of seizures and epilepsy, multiple significant head injuries, and severely compromised veins due to years of intravenous drug use, according to court documents filed by Harcourt.

Harcourt stated in an email to AL.com that they are filing a petition to the circuit court of Cullman County based on double jeopardy and will soon file for a rehearing to the U.S. Supreme Court.  

The complaints included a report filed by Mark J. S. Heath, a medical doctor with a practice in anesthesiology at the New York-Presbyterian/Columbia Hospital in New York City. Heath examined Hamm on Feb. 25 at the Holman Correctional Facility where most of the state's death row inmates are held.

That exam, according to a report filed with Monday's complaint, found a total of 11 lower extremities and right groin puncture wounds. Sudden bleeding by Hamm that occurred during the procedure while Hamm was strapped to the gurney in the death chamber was consistent with arterial puncture and penetration of a ureter, the bladder, the prostate gland, or the urethra, the report states.

Since the failed execution Hamm has suffered not only physically but also emotionally, according to the federal complaint. "He has had nightmares and flashbacks in which he pictures himself lying on the gurney again, being subjected again to the torturous pain that occurred on February 22, 2018. Doyle Hamm has been traumatized and lives in fear that ADOC will subject him to another painful and botched execution," the complaint states.

The night of the scheduled execution the U.S. Supreme Court had delayed the start of the lethal injection procedure but gave the go ahead about 9 p.m. and the DOC began prepping Hamm. It was after 11:30 p.m. when word came that the execution had been called off. The death warrant expired at midnight and the state would have to ask the Alabama Supreme Court to set another date.

Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said medical personnel had advised officials that there wasn't enough time to ensure that the execution could be conducted in a humane manner. However, Dunn declined to detail the exact medical factors behind the decision, and said he didn't want to characterize them as a problem.

Source: al.com, Kent Faulk, March 6, 2018


Doyle Lee Hamm wished for death during botched execution, report says


Alabama's death chamber
Death-row inmate Doyle Lee Hamm told a doctor that an attempt to execute him last month was so painful that he wished for a quick death, according to a medical report filed on Monday.

Alabama prison officials called off Hamm's lethal injection Feb. 22 because they could not find a viable vein as the clock ticked down to midnight, when the death warrant was set to expire.

Hamm's attorney, Bernard Harcourt, said the procedure amounted to torture, with an intravenous team repeatedly puncturing his legs before another medical worker tried to put a central line in through his groin.

"During this time Mr. Hamm began to hope that the doctor would succeed in obtaining IV access so that Mr. Hamm could 'get it over with' because he preferred to die rather than to continue to experience the ongoing severe pain," Dr. Mark Heath, who was retained by Harcourt to examine Hamm, wrote in his report.

"At one point a large amount of blood began to accumulate in the region of Mr. Hamm’s groin. The blood soaked a pad or drape, and another one was applied."

Heath examined and interviewed Hamm after the execution attempt. Photos he took show puncture wounds on the convict's legs and groin, and heavy bruising. Hamm has been on death row for three decades for the murder of a motel clerk in 1987.

The report, based on Hamm's account of the execution, describes a frantic scene in the death chamber, which was closed to all but the execution team at the time. It reported the IV team "mashing" needles into his flesh in an effort to connect with a good vein. The veins in Hamm's arms had been compromised by illness and years of drug use.

A man Hamm assumed was a doctor and a woman working an ultrasound machine then arrived to see if the needle could be placed in a larger vein in his groin, but that was also unsuccessful, the report says.

After a man who was monitoring the execution — apparently a prison official — informed the medical workers that the execution had been canceled, the doctor said he wanted to keep trying, according to Hamm's account.

"The doctor then moved to Mr. Hamm’s feet and began examining them and palpating them, stating that he had not had an opportunity to attempt access in the feet," the report said. "The man then told the doctor to 'get out.'"

Heath said that because Hamm reported blood in his urine after the botched procedure, his bladder, ureter or prostate may have been punctured. The amount of blood he described suggested his femoral artery could have been penetrated, the report said.

The Alabama Department of Corrections has declined to comment on Harcourt's allegations or release any paperwork related to it, citing ongoing litigation. Immediately after the failed execution, the corrections commissioner said he did not think the delay represented "a problem" and expected to be able to execute Hamm at another time.

Harcourt filed appeals in two courts on Monday challenging the legality of trying to execute a man twice. Hamm, meanwhile, told the doctor's he's having nightmares and daytime flashbacks.

"The flashbacks occur when he is alone, and involve imaging himself strapped to the gurney. He can feel his heart racing during the flashbacks," Heath wrote. "He is appreciative of the support of other death row prisoners who are asking what they can do to help him recover."

Source: NBC News, Tracy Connor, March 6, 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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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning