Alabama to tinker with the machinery of death again


Three months after a series of botched executions caused Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to call for a pause in state killing to allow time for a “top-to-bottom review,” of the state’s broken execution protocol, the state is ready to try again. 

In a letter to state Attorney General Steve Marshall last Friday, Ivey said it “is time to resume our duty of carrying out lawful death sentences,” reports. According to the paper, Ivey acted after receiving word from Marshall that the review was complete. 

Marshall wasted no time. On Friday, the same day he received Ivey’s letter, Marshall announced on social media that he had asked the state Supreme Court to set an execution date for James Barber and that he “will be seeking death warrants for other murderers in short order,” according to

The brief hiatus was called in November, after the botched execution of Kenneth Smith, which ended after the execution team tried and failed for over an hour to find a usable vein for its lethal drugs. Smith’s was the third execution last year that was botched and the fourth since 2018. All are related to the execution team’s inability to insert IV lines. 

In 2018, Doyle Hamm’s execution was called off after a two-and-a-half-hour ordeal that was so botched it left Hamm “bruised, punctured, and limping from the attempted execution,” his attorney, Bernard Harcourt, wrote in a blog post. In a later post, he wrote, “This was clearly a botched execution that can only be accurately described as torture.” 

The same could be said for the other two executions in Alabama last year. The July 28 execution of Joe Nathan James, Jr. was a “long death,” according to Elizabeth Bruenig in a harrowing account in the Atlantic. She writes of the execution team’s several botched attempts to insert catheters into James’s hands and arms, causing severe pain, “further evidence that the IV team was unqualified for the task in a most dramatic way” as the physician who conducted his autopsy told her. 

Alan Miller’s attempted execution on September 22 was just as horrific. In another story for the Atlantic, Bruenig, who was at Holman Prison to witness the attempted killing of Miller, interviewed him after it had been called off. He 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.

(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.”) notes that the Alabama Department of Corrections did not provide any details as to what was learned or changed as a result of its review, but said Hamm revealed that the department had “ordered and obtained new equipment” for its executions.

The paper also noted that a group of lawyers in Alabama has sent a letter to Ivey requesting an independent investigation into the execution protocol. 

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