Lawyer calls aborted execution attempt ‘torture’

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (NBC) — Armed with a court order, a doctor was scheduled to examine an Alabama death-row inmate on Sunday for signs of injury or suffering sustained during an aborted execution last week.

Prison officials said they called off a lethal injection for Doyle Lee Hamm, convicted in the 1987 murder of a hotel clerk, on Thursday night because they didn’t have enough time to carry it out before a death warrant expired at midnight.

Execution team members stuck the inmate repeatedly in the lower legs, ankles and groin in an effort to find a usable vein before the state called off the lethal injection, according to a Friday court filing by the inmate’s lawyer.

Prison officals said at 11:30 p.m. that they were halting the execution because medical staff did not think it could obtain “the appropriate venous access” before the midnight deadline.

“I wouldn’t necessarily characterize what we had tonight as a problem,” Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said, blaming last-minute appeals for the delay.

But Hamm’s attorney said the execution attempt was badly botched, with the prison team repeatedly jabbing the cancer survivor in the legs with needles in a futile effort to find a usable vein.

The two members of the IV team — each working on a different side of the body — flipped Hamm onto his stomach to search for access points on the back of his leg, lawyer Bernard Harcourt said in a statement.

When that failed, Harcourt said in court papers, the IV team tried to place what’s known as a central line into a larger vein.

“Multiple times, they tried to insert a catheter into Doyle Hamm’s right groin, causing severe bleeding and pain,” Harcourt wrote.

When Harcourt was able to meet with his client Friday afternoon, Hamm was bruised and limping, the lawyer said.

“This went beyond ghoulish justice and cruel and unusual punishment,” Harcourt, a Columbia Law professor, said in a statement. “It was torture.”

Harcourt went to federal court and persuaded a judge to order a medical exam for Hamm, who has been on death row for 30 years.

All prisoners have a constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment, with the courts deciding if a particular execution is likely to violate that.

Before Thursday, Harcourt had warned that due to Hamm’s history of drug abuse and his illnesses, it would be impossible to find good veins to deliver the deadly drugs.

A judge ruled the execution could proceed as long as the IV wasn’t inserted in Hamm’s arms. The U.S. Supreme Court, with three justices dissenting, then declined to stop the lethal injection.

Prison officials have given few details about what went on in the death chamber before Hamm got a reprieve.

A new execution date has not been set.