The State of Alabama will not execute Doyle Lee Hamm.
Hamm’s pro bono attorney and Alabama reached a “private settlement agreement …that resolves all pending litigation in federal and state court over the planned execution of Hamm in this decades-long death penalty case.”
After signing a confidential accord, Columbia Law School Professor Bernard E. Harcourt, Hamm’s lawyer, “jointly moved with the State of Alabama to dismiss Hamm’s 1983 civil rights lawsuit and federal habeas corpus petition in the Northern District of Alabama in Birmingham, as well as his state post-conviction Rule 32 petition in Cullman County, Alabama.”
In other words, Hamm drops his cases against the state and he will not be executed.
Harcourt said the discussions with the Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall began right after the botched execution. He didn’t elaborate further.
What led to this decision by a state committed to executing Hamm, as expressed by the state’s attorney general the day before the scheduled execution by lethal injection? An execution that was at once unsuccessful and, as described by his legal team, doctor and family, ‘torture?’
The day before Hamm’s scheduled execution, his family had said their goodbyes.
“Behind these fence and blades a man that is loved very much,” Hamm’s sister-in-law wrote. After visiting she said, “It was a feeling I can’t explain. We laughed and smiled and cried. And even tho we know what’s ahead tomorrow we still were ok. Keep us in your prayers. Thanks.”
Hours before the execution, the family was taken from the prison.
They would not know the outcome for many hours.
Here’s what you need to know about the case and death sentence of Doyle Lee Hamm:
1. The Execution of Convicted Killer Doyle Lee Hamm Was Brutally Blundered & Then Aborted
The Alabama prison execution team had convicted killer Hamm strapped on a gurney searching for veins for his scheduled execution by lethal injection Feb. 22. Meanwhile, his attorney’s were up until the very last minutes arguing before the courts to stop the execution saying it would amount to torture. The Supreme Court issued a temporary stay of execution shortly after 6 p.m. that night. A very temporary stay because within a three hours the high court declined to hear Hamm’s case. The execution was to proceed with the death warrant due to expire at midnight.
Hamm attorney Harcourt had long argued that his 61-year-old client’s veins are damaged from lymphatic cancer, hepatitis C and past drug use and lethal injection would be unconstitutionally painful. Alabama corrections officials said suggested executioners would access undamaged veins. Harcourt suggested oral injection but it’s been reported the ADOC can’t use the drug it uses for IV executions orally, and, it turns out the drug, Midazolam, was banned. How the ADOC has the drug is not clear.
Regardless of previous arguments, the execution team worked for more than two and a half hours trying to find veins in which to proceed with the lethal injection trying to beat the clock and could not. Hamm’s death warrant would expire and the execution called off. New details from Heath’s medical report, including that the execution team was not properly outfitted in sterile medical attire, describe how needles were forced into flesh in nearly a dozen locations once hitting bone. With blood gushing, Hamm said he’d prefer to die rather than continue to experience sever pain and was shivering and trembling from fear and cold. After nearly two hours, a doctor dressed in civilian clothing showed up and, after a failed attempt to get an artery through Hamm’s groin, suggested that they try again on his feet. A prison official, according to the report, told the doctor to “get out” and the execution was called off.
Alabama Department of Corrections officials said they’d simply run out of time to complete the execution. ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn said he “wouldn’t necessarily characterize what we had tonight as a problem.”
But Hamm attorney Harcourt wrote that what happened in the death chamber was “worse” that he imagined.
Hamm’s legal team had argued their client was tortured and fought to have him examined and the results public.
Days after the Feb. 22 bloody botched execution, a Columbia University physician, Dr. Mark Heath examined Doyle. Graphic and detailed descriptions of his examination legal action filed against the Alabama Dept. of Corrections by the Death Row inmate’s attorney who called the aborted execution of his client torture.
The following verbatim description and images are from the ‘Notice of Submission of Expert Report of Dr. Mark Heath Re: Examination of Petitioner Doyle Lee Hamm on Feb. 25, 2018.’
“While he was strapped down arms and legs to the gurney, the IV personnel simultaneously worked on both legs at the same time, probing his flesh and inserting needles.
“The IV personnel almost certainly punctured Doyle’s bladder, because he was urinating blood for the next day. They may have hit his femoral artery as well, because suddenly there was a lot of blood gushing out. There were multiple puncture wounds on the ankles, calf, and right groin area, around a dozen. They were grinding a needle in his shin area for many minutes, painfully. He seems to have 6 puncture marks in his right groin, and large bruising and swelling in the groin. He has pain going from the lower abdomen to the upper thigh. He is limping badly now and terribly sore.
“During the execution, Doyle was lying there praying and hoping that they would succeed because of the pain, and collapsed when they took him off the gurney. The doctor working on his groin twice insisted he could continue and gain access after the execution was called off. This was clearly a botched execution that can only be accurately described as torture.”
On Feb. 25, Harcourt and his team walked out of Holman Prison after physician Dr. Mark Heath had examined Hamm.
2. The Fight Against Hamm’s Execution Was Fought by Hamm’s Lawyers, His Family, Anti-Death Penalty Groups & Human Rights Agencies
Before the botched execution and following it, Hamm’s family, including his brother Danny and sister-in-law Wendy, who contacted Heavy via Facebook messenger, said Hamm was not only too ill to be executed, but “if people knew Doyle they would see, feel and know that Doyle has God, and God had him last night and every minute.”
Hamm was convicted of an execution-style killing of motel clerk Patrick Cunningham in Cullum, Alabama during a robbery.
In early February, U.S. District Judge Karon O Bowdre issued a stay of execution for Hamm, but a appeals circuit court granted the state of Alabama’s emergency motion to vacate. Then, the US Supreme Court granted a temporary stay at the last minute which was to last just two hours. Ultimately the Supreme Court voted to not hear Hamm’s appeal. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented.
Harcourt filed an second amended complaint in US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama that details why the ADOC would be in violation of the US Constitution’s 5th, 8th and 14th amendments – creul and unusal punishment, torture, double jeopardy and lack of due process involved – if they attempt a second execution by lethal injection. Hamm has long offered an alternative method, an orally injected cocktail mix of death drugs but ADCO has refused and claims Alabama law prevents that.
Harcourt said federal district court in Birmingham has scheduled an appeals hearing for Tuesday, March 6.
Hamm’s sister-in-law Christy Kay Byr posted about her fear of “being behind a glass window watching his soul leave his body. Need prayers for understanding, strength and heartbreak!”
The International Commission Against the Death Penalty sent a letter to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey seeking a stay of execution for Hamm. The ICDP letter was from agency officials including former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson: “We call on you, noting [Hamm’s] long imprisonment facing the death penalty and his extremely frail condition following his cancer, to allow Mr. Hamm to serve the rest of his life in prison…We believe that carrying out Mr. Hamm’s execution, given his serious medical condition, is unconscionable and represents a serious erosion of your state’s proud tradition of compassion and of respecting and protecting human dignity.”
United Nations Commission on Human Rights says that the “use of a lethal injection could amount to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment—and possibly torture.”
“We are seriously concerned that attempts to insert needles into Mr. Hamm’s veins to carry out the lethal injection would inflict pain and suffering that may amount to torture,” they said in a letter last week. A Columbia University doctor and professor of medicine assessed Hamm last fall and said because of the inmate’s compromised veins, there was a high probability that intravenous lethal injection could cause Hamm to become paralyzed and consciously suffocate, leading to “an agonizing death.”
3.The Alabama Attorney General Said That Justice Will Be Served With the Execution of Hamm. The Marshall Project Said the Sentence & How an Appeal Was Handled by the State of Alabama Was a ‘Sham’
“…I will not request that Doyle Hamm’s execution be stopped, but instead I will ask that justice be served,” posted Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. His position is the victim and the victim’s family have been waiting for decades for justice.
Marshall says that Hamm drove from Mississippi where he’d committed murder and then pulled up to the motel in Cullum, tried to rob it and then killed Cunningham, a married father of two, execution style.
“No one disputes Hamm’s culpability in the murder of Patrick Cunningham. Two accomplices, who at first claimed they had been kidnapped by Hamm, agreed to testify against him. But prosecutors probably didn’t need them. Hamm confessed after a lengthy interrogation. The statement was read for the jury, which took just 50 minutes to come back with a guilty verdict,” said The Marshall Project in a 2016 report.
“It was the next phase of Hamm’s trial—the sentencing phase—that raises the questions now on appeal to the Supreme Court. Hamm’s trial attorney did virtually nothing to try to spare his client’s life and called only two witnesses in his 19-minute defense: Hamm’s sister and a bailiff. When prosecutors improperly introduced evidence of Hamm’s prior convictions in Tennessee—convictions that may have been based on flawed procedures—Hamm’s attorney did nothing to correct the error. It took the jury just 45 minutes to come back and recommend a death sentence,” the report reads.
More than 12 years after Hamm was sentenced, a judge turned down a request for a new sentencing hearing with “facts from Hamm’s grim life that might have convinced a jury not to impose death—so-called mitigation evidence—that Hamm’s first lawyer failed to unearth during his trial.”
The Marshall Project reported that the process was a “sham” because the judge “signed an 89-page order written entirely by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office—and did it within one business day of receiving it. He didn’t even take the time to cross off the word ‘Proposed’ in the title, ‘Proposed Memorandum Opinion.’ Hamm’s attorneys allege the judge never read the opinion before signing it, and no state attorney has ever refuted that.”
The position being that in a death penalty case especially it behooves the court to “weigh all sides, consider the law and come to a measured, independent conclusion.”
4. Hamm Admitted His Guilt, Has Served 30 Years in Prison & Harcourt Spent Nearly 30 Years Trying to Keep Him Alive. But the Backstory, Possible Mitigation, in Hamm’s Case Was Not Factored in to the Court’s Decision to Execute Him
As of today, Hamm has served 30 years, two months and 22 days. He’s in Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama on Death Row with the clock ticking to 6 pm. His custody is the most restrictive custody level to which an inmate can be assigned. Inmates in this custody, the Alabama Department of Corrections says, will be housed in a single cell in a close security institution. Movement outside the housing area requires that the inmate be restrained and accompanied by armed correctional personnel.” Convicted on Dec. 1, 1987, his current status is ‘closed.’
Hamm’s lawyer has been working to keep him alive for all of those 30 years.
The New Yorker said Hamm was the 10th of 12 kids in a dirt poor northern Alabama family where the father, a cotton picker, made and drank moonshine and beat his kids regularly. Hamm’s sister told the magazine, that the Hamm family home life was “constant hell” and their daddy pushed them into a life of crime: “If you don’t go out and steal, then you’re not a Hamm.”
“Jurors were never told that Hamm had been diagnosed as borderline mentally retarded as early as 1969, nearly two decades before the crime,” Andrew Cohen wrote for the Marshall Project story. “They were not told about a school record that repeatedly cited his intellectual deficits. Nor were jurors given any expert evidence about Hamm’s lengthy history of seizures, head injuries and drug and alcohol abuse. The fuller portrait of Hamm’s life was that of a barely literate, brain-damaged man with little impulse control, someone who might have been perceived as having diminished criminal responsibility.”
5.Botched Executions, While Not Common, Happen With Some Frequency, Researchers Have Found
Jesse Tafero was executed for the murder of two law enforcement officers in 1976 in south Florida. His 1990 execution had him strapped in ‘Old Sparky,’ the then-electric chair on Florida’s Death Row in the Florida State Prison. But the chair malfunctioned and his head caught on fire with flames shooting half a foot above his head. It took more than 10 minutes for him to die. (This reporter interviewed Tafero on Death Row in 1989; he denied the killings.)
Of the 1054 lethal injection executions in the US, as of 2010, 75 or more than 7% have been botched. In total, of all executions, be it electric chair, hanging or firing squad, 276 of the more than 8,000 have been botched.
The Marshall Project tracks executions and shared updates on Hamm, and two other men scheduled for execution Thursday, one in Florida and another in Texas.
Thomas “Bart” Whitaker was scheduled to die in Texas Thursday, but Gov. Greg Abbott commuted his sentence to life without parole.
Whitaker and Hamm were not executed Thursday night. Florida was a different story.
Eric Scott Branch strangled and raped a University of West Florida student in 1993. Ten days before, he raped and beat a 14-year-old girl in Indiana and raped a woman in Florida.
Gov. Rick Scott signed his death warrant on Jan. 19, 2018. The US Supreme Court denied Branch’s appeal to stop his execution Thursday night. His last words came during his execution by lethal injection Thursday night; Branch screamed, “Murderers!” Corrections officials said the cry had nothing to do with the lethal injection process.
Nineteen states have ended the use of the death penalty as well as Washington D.C. Four states, including Washington state, maintain a moratorium. States without the death penalty are largely in the Northeast, upper Atlantic and Midwest regions and Hawaii and Alaska.