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Despite Three Botched Executions, Alabama Plans to Kill a Fourth Man Next Month

Despite multiple botched executions, the Alabama Corrections Department appears to be determined to continue its barbaric torture.
The gurney in a lethal injection chamber is seen through a plate glass window in one of the witness rooms Oct. 7, 2002, at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama. (Bill Starling)

By Death Penalty Focus

(Update: Today, just two weeks after Alabama corrections officials botched the execution of Alan Miller, the state wants to try again. According to AL.com, the attorney general confirmed that he has asked the Alabama Supreme Court to set another execution date for Miller.)

As reported in last week’s Focus, for the second time in two months, Alabama corrections officials botched an execution on September 22, when they rushed to kill Alan Miller before his death warrant expired at midnight. They tried to find a vein for their lethal injection drugs for almost three hours before being forced to abandon the execution shortly before midnight.

Because the media and witnesses were kept in a separate waiting room with no communication with the execution team or Corrections Department representatives, no one knew what was happening until after midnight when, according to AL.com, Corrections Department Commissioner John Hamm told reporters that, “Due to the time constraints resulting in the lateness of the court proceedings, the execution was called off once it was determined the condemned’s veins could not be accessed in accordance with our protocol before the expiration of the death warrant.” As a result, Hamm said, Miller was returned to his cell. 

(An unnamed source told the Death Penalty Information Center that, “Miller had ‘about 18 needle marks’ in his arms and legs after the failed execution.”)

On Sunday, the Atlantic’s Elizabeth Bruenig, who wrote a searing piece on the botched execution of Joe Nathan James, Jr., by Alabama on July 28, and was at Holman Prison to witness the killing of Miller at the invitation of Miller’s family, published an exhaustive account of the events of the night the state attempted to kill Miller. In an interview with Miller after that night, Miller told Bruenig of the constant puncturing by the execution team over the 60-90 minutes they searched for a usable vein. The team eventually left the room without explanation, flipped the gurney Miller was lying on into a vertical position, and left him “hanging off the upright gurney, his hands and one foot bleeding from failed IV attempts, waiting to die,” she reported.

This was Alabama’s second botched execution in two months and its third botched killing since 2018. The latter was called off after the execution team tried and failed for three hours to find a usable vein for Doyle Hamm. In the aftermath, Hamm’s lawyer filed a civil rights suit, and the state entered into a confidential settlement with Hamm, “preventing any further execution attempts.”

It isn’t known if the state will attempt to kill Miller again. Still, a district judge ordered the Corrections Department and any contractors or medical personnel involved in the attempted execution “to locate and preserve all evidence” related to the botched procedure. And he allowed lawyers to take still photographs and videos with their cell phones, bring “evidence stickers and rulers,” and retain a doctor to examine Miller and document those findings. 

But the Corrections Department appears to be determined to continue its barbaric torture. Not only is it attempting to try and execute Miller again, last Friday, the state Supreme Court set Thursday, November 17, for Kenneth Smith to be killed. In 1996, the jury in Smith’s case recommended 11-1 that he be sentenced to life without parole for the 1988 murder of Elizabeth Sennett, but the trial judge overruled the jury and sentenced him to death, AL.com reports. In 2017, Alabama modified its law to require a unanimous jury verdict to impose the death penalty but didn’t make the new law retroactive for prisoners already on death row.


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Death Penalty Focus

Death Penalty Focus was founded in 1988 by a group of California death penalty abolitionists.  Since then, DPF has led protests, supported vigils, engaged people of faith, and worked with community leaders to end the death penalty.  From the start, DPF has educated, mobilized and organized the anti-death penalty movement in California. In conjunction with coalition partners including the ACLU, NAACP, Catholic Mobilizing Network, the American Bar Association, California People of Faith, Amnesty International, and criminal defense organizations, DPF became a national leader in death penalty policy and abolition strategy.

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