Lawyer: Inmate likely sustained internal damage after 'botched' execution
Doyle Lee Hamm, whose execution was called off, likely sustained internal damage as the state tried to find a vein to inject the drugs, his lawyer said
By Ivana Hrynkiw
Alabama Media Group, Birmingham
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — An Alabama death row inmate, whose Thursday lethal injection execution was called off at the last minute, likely sustained internal damage as the state tried to find a vein to inject the drugs, his lawyer said Monday.
The state may have punctured his bladder, an artery, or both, during the approximately two-and-a-half hours spent preparing inmate Doyle Lee Hamm for execution, said Hamm's attorney, Bernard Harcourt.
"It was a botched execution," Harcourt said about Thursday night's execution attempt.
Hamm was set to be executed on Thursday, but the execution was called off after medical personnel couldn't find a vein to insert the catheter needed for the lethal drugs. A review of the execution attempt was set for Monday morning in U.S. Chief District Judge Karon O Bowdre's courtroom, but that hearing was cancelled Friday after a telephone conference between Harcourt and officials from the Alabama Attorney General's Office.
On Monday Bowdre set a scheduling conference for March 6 at 2 p.m. Harcourt said he expects the judge to hold a full review of Thursday's incident. He said the medical report from Sunday's exam will be entered into court records in the coming weeks.
Hamm was set to be executed by lethal injection at 6 p.m. at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, but the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary stay just before the execution was set to begin. That stay was lifted just after 9 p.m. and the court cleared the way for 61-year-old Hamm to be put to death. At approximately 11:30 p.m., Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn announced they wouldn't be executing Hamm that night, because medical personnel would not be able to prepare him for the procedure by midnight when the death warrant expired.
Dunn did not specify what exactly the problem was and what medical personnel had been doing for more than two hours between when the stay was lifted and when medical personnel advised officials on the situation. Court records filed Friday state the execution team couldn't find a vein to insert the catheter needed for the lethal drugs.
Harcourt said that staff tried to use Hamm's peripheral veins on his lower extremities, as a previous court order directed them to, but they couldn't find a vein on either leg or either ankle. After those attempts failed, medical personnel moved on to try a central venous line in Hamm's right groin--where, days earlier, an independent doctor who evaluated Hamm said there were abnormal lymph nodes.
Harcourt said the execution team didn't try to access the left groin, and he does not know why.
During the procedure, Harcourt said Hamm experienced severe pain and bleeding.
Hamm underwent a medical exam Sunday, and Harcourt said the team likely punctured Hamm's bladder and/or an artery in his groin. "They made a beeline for his right groin," Harcourt said. "Knowing that he had abnormal [lymph nodes] there. Of all the places in his body they shouldn't go."
"He was strapped to the gurney in the death chamber while they were trying to find a vein," Harcourt said.
Harcourt said Hamm is "traumatized" from the execution attempt.
In addition to Sunday's exam, Harcourt also asked Bowdre to allow his doctor to examine the Alabama Department of Corrections execution chamber, see the clothes Hamm was wearing at the time, and read the notes taken by the staff Thursday night.
Bowdre denied the motion on Saturday, the day before the doctor's exam.
The execution came after months of legal battles revolving around whether Hamm's veins were able to handle the IV required for the drugs. Harcourt argued that Hamm's veins had become nearly impossible to access after years of intravenous drug use and Hamm's diagnosis, and treatment, of lymphatic cancer. The AG's Office argued Hamm's cancer is in remission and there is no reason he shouldn't be executed after spending 30 years on death row.
According to an order from Bowdre before the planned execution, the state agreed not to use any peripheral veins in Hamm's arms or hands; but, the DOC can use those veins in Hamm's legs or any of his "lower extremities." There were no restricitions on his central veins.
"The court's independent medical expert reported that Mr. Hamm has accessible peripheral veins in his lower extremities, and that the peripheral veins in his upper extremities, while accessible, would be more difficult to access and would require a more advanced practitioner using ultrasound guidance," Bowdre wrote in her order. "Based on that report, [the state] agreed to stipulate that they would not attempt peripheral venous access in Mr. Hamm's upper extremities, and the court denied Mr. Hamm's request for a preliminary injunction."
Hamm has been on death row for over 30 years, after he was convicted in the 1987 murder of Patrick Cunningham. Cunningham was shot in the head while working the overnight shift at Anderson's Motel in Cullman.
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