After a string of issues with the delivery of drugs for lethal injection this year, the governor of Alabama issued a sweeping order on Monday suspending all executions in the state and ordering a review of Alabama’s execution process. The order came in response to a series of problems that have occurred this year.
The decision to take this action was made by Republican Governor Kay Ivey four days after prison authorities reported that they had been unable to implant one of two intravenous lines into Kenneth Eugene Smith before the midnight deadline on his execution warrant. This incident was the third time in 2018 that Alabama executioners were unable to access a death row inmate’s veins, and it was the second time in a span of less than two months that the state was forced to put off an execution due to technical difficulties.
Ms. Ivey said that she had conveyed to the state’s attorney general her desire to have the state’s two outstanding requests for execution dates withdrawn and to refrain from making any more requests until the investigation has been completed.
There is often a rush of last-minute pleas made by attorneys representing death row inmates in an effort to block or postpone the execution of their clients. Because these appeals continued late into the night during the two most recent executions carried out in Alabama, the Supreme Court had less time to dispose of them after they were heard, which meant that prison officials had less time to carry out the executions before the death warrants expired at midnight.
Ms. Ivey issued a statement in which she stated, “For the sake of the victims and their families, we have got to do this right.” She continued by saying, “I simply cannot, in good faith, bring another victim’s family to Holman searching for justice and closure until I am convinced that we can carry out the lawful punishment.” She was referring to the William C. Holman jail, which is home to the execution chamber.
The executions in Alabama have come under scrutiny this year as a result of the execution of Joe Nathan James in July. During the execution, the staff in the death chamber struggled for hours to access James’ veins and, according to a private autopsy, cut into one of his arms in what is known as a “cutdown.” James was executed. The next month, in September, executioners were unable to place an intravenous line into Alan Eugene Miller’s veins in time for the death warrant to be carried out, therefore he was not put to death.
Both Mr. Miller and Mr. Smith were returned to their cells, making them two of the very few persons to have survived an attempted execution by lethal injection. In a separate incident that occurred in the state in 2018, authorities attempted to implant a line into Doyle Lee Hamm, but they were unsuccessful. Hamm survived the incident, but he passed away from natural causes while he was incarcerated in 2018.