On Feb. 22, officials with the Alabama Department of Corrections tried to execute death-row inmate Doyle Lee Hamm. Five times they attempted to connect an IV line to Hamm’s legs and feet. Each try failed. They then stuck a needle into his upper thigh and groin six times until he bled profusely, which caused officials to end the execution.
Drug use and repeated treatments for lymphatic cancer had rendered Hamm’s veins unusable for lethal-injection executions, his legal team warned beforehand. They were right.
“This went beyond ghoulish justice and cruel and unusual punishment,” Attorney Bernard Harcourt, who represents Hamm, wrote in a recent Columbia Law School blog post. “It was torture.” On Monday, Hamm’s legal team responded to the botched execution by filing a doctor’s report with the U.S. District Court that detailed that night’s escapade.
Indeed, the repeated attempts to insert an IV needle into an Alabama man’s unusable veins — 11 attempts in all — seem a clear violation of Hamm’s Eighth Amendment right against that type of punishment. They also are another example of why the death penalty in the United States is such a losing proposition for the executioners themselves.
Hamm, convicted of murdering Cullman motel clerk Patrick Cunningham in 1987, deserves lifelong imprisonment for his crime, never again to taste freedom. But there is no moral way to kill another human. Killing is killing, whether it is from street violence or domestic abuse or state-sanctioned executions carried out with the governor’s signature.
Developed nations that truly abhor the worst forms of human behavior understand this. You can’t kill and retain your moral standing. They see the slippery slope that traps death-penalty nations in an unwinnable argument in which one side claims superiority over convicted murderers and then kills them in a codified form of eye-for-an-eye justice.
It is illogical, ineffective and downright Victorian in its thinking.
The United States aligns itself with nations like Iran, China, Russia and Iraq each time it marches a condemned inmate to the death chamber. They are among our brothers in arms, nations that continue to falsely believe executing inmates is a crime deterrent and an acceptable way for civilized people to mete out the harshest forms of criminal justice.
Alabama’s recent death-penalty missteps prove how warped its Republican-dominated lawmakers and corrections officials are in their attempts to reduce their death-row population. Certain drug manufacturers either no longer make the needed substances or decline to sell them for executions, causing states to seek substitutes. And when they’re told an inmate’s veins won’t accept IV needles, they jam the needle in and in and in, a scene as macabre as it sounds.
We think Alabama is better than that, that we won’t stand for the torture of inmates, even those convicted of murder.