Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey called for a pause in executions and on Monday ordered a “top-down” review of the state’s death penalty system after an unprecedented third lethal injection failed.
Ivey’s office issued a statement saying she had both asked Attorney General Steve Marshall to withdraw requests for execution dates for two inmates and that the Department of Corrections conduct a full review of the state’s execution process.
Ivey also urged Marshall not to request additional execution dates for other death row inmates until the review is complete.
The move followed Thursday’s incomplete execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith, which marked the state’s second such case in the past two months in which it failed to execute an inmate and its third since 2018. The state closed an execution in July off, but only after that a three hour delay, caused at least in part by the same problem starting an IV set.
Ivey denied prison officials or law enforcement were to blame for the troubles, saying, “There are legal tactics at play here and criminals hijacking the system.”
“In the interest of the victims and their families, we have to do this right,” she said.
Corrections Commissioner John Hamm said the department was fully committed to the review and was “confident that we can do this right”.
“Everything is on the table – from our legal strategy in dealing with last-minute appeals, to our training and preparation, the order and timing of events on execution day, to the personnel and equipment involved,” Hamm said in a statement released the governor’s office.
Marshall, the state’s chief attorney, did not immediately say if he would agree to Ivey’s request. The attorney general “reads the comments from the governor and the commissioner with interest” and “will comment more at a later date,” said spokesman Mike Lewis.
Alabama Arise, a nonprofit that works for the poor, said Marshall should agree to a moratorium and urged lawmakers “to do their part to reduce the injustice of Alabama’s death penalty system.”
The Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death penalty group with a large database of executions, said no state other than Alabama has had to halt an ongoing execution since 2017, when Ohio halted Alva Campbell’s lethal injection because workers couldn’t find it could a vein.
The organization’s executive director, Robert Dunham, said Ivey was right to request an investigation and a break, but any review of the system must be conducted by someone other than the state prison system. While Ivey blamed defense efforts for the execution’s failure, Dunham said her “willful blindness” to the ailments of the prison system was part of the problem.
“The Alabama Department of Justice has a history of denying and twisting the truth about its execution failures and cannot be trusted to meaningfully investigate its own incompetence and wrongdoing,” he said.
Earlier this year, after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee stopped a lethal injection in April because he learned the drugs hadn’t been tested as required, he ordered an independent investigation and paused all executions until the end of the year.
The execution of Joe Nathan James Jr. in Alabama took several hours to get underway in July because problems setting up an IV line led the anti-death penalty group Reprieve US Forensic Justice Initiative to claim the execution was over been botched.
In September, the state called off the scheduled execution of Alan Eugene Miller over difficulties accessing his veins. Miller said in a court filing that prison staff jailed him with needles for more than an hour and at one point left him hanging vertically on a gurney before announcing they were stopping. Prison officials have claimed that the delays were due to the state following procedures carefully.
Ivey asked the state to withdraw execution date requests for Miller and James Edward Barber, the only two death row inmates with such requests before the Alabama Supreme Court.
Alabama called off the execution of Doyle Hamm in 2018 over problems connecting the IV line. Hamm had damaged veins from lymphoma, hepatitis and a history of drug use, his attorney said. Hamm later died in prison of natural causes.
Alabama should have imposed a moratorium on executions after Hamm’s failed execution for the good of all, said Bernard Harcourt, an attorney who represented Hamm for years.
“As a political matter, Governor Ivey mentions only the victims, but these botched executions were torture for the men on the bier, their families, friends, ministers and lawyers, and all the men and women who work in prison and are involved in these botched attempts . The trauma of these executions extends far and wide to everyone they touch,” Harcourt said.