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Alabama must release lethal injection execution protocol, court rules

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A U.S. judge ordered Alabama to preserve death chamber evidence of an aborted execution and be ready to present it at court after lawyers for the condemned man warned his poor health left him with veins unusable for a lethal injection.
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled Monday that Alabama cannot shield its lethal injection execution protocol from the public. 

The unanimous ruling from the court’s three-judge panel upheld a 2018 U.S. District Court ruling, which sided with the Montgomery Advertiser, Associated Press and Alabama Media Group’s motion to unseal Alabama’s execution protocol on First Amendment grounds. 

The media organizations filed the motion following the botched execution of Doyle Lee Hamm, a death row inmate who walked out of the execution chamber in February 2018 after officials couldn’t find a suitable vein for lethal injection. 

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Though Alabama said at the time it would pursue another execution, Hamm’s attorney later said the state had agreed not to seek another attempt.

U.S. District Court Judge Karon Bowdre ruled last year the state must release its lethal injection protocol, sealed transcripts of two court hearings and a related motion in the case of Hamm.

“Capital punishment is a hotly contested issue that involves an irrevocable punishment for prisoners convicted of terrible crimes,” the ruling stated. “The public has a great interest in understanding how the state carries out its punishment.”

Alabama halted executions in 2014 after it ran out of pentobarbitol, a sedative used in  the execution process. Later the same year, the Alabama Department of Corrections adopted a new three-drug protocol that includes a sedative, a paralyzing agent and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. 

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Alabama has not released information on how and where it procures its execution drugs. The state has also remained tight-lipped about other protocols and procedures leading up to executions.

ADOC officials called off Hamm’s lethal injection attempt at Holman Correctional Facility shortly before midnight on Feb. 22, 2018. ADOC officials said it was a time issue — Hamm’s death warrant expired at midnight — but Hamm’s legal team say multiple attempts to set an IV in his lower legs and groin led to extreme pain, possible infection and psychological distress.

Afterward, Hamm argued in court the execution attempt amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. His lawyers had previously warned the court his veins were too damaged from medical issues to be access for an IV line. 

“There are few things the citizens of Alabama need to know more than how the state is executing someone,” Advertiser Executive Editor Bro Krift said last year. “Open government is good government.”

Alabama now has three weeks in which it can ask the appeals court to rehear the case. 

Follow Melissa Brown on Twitter: @itsmelissabrown

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