On Feb. 22, 2018, Alabama death row inmate Doyle Lee Hamm was scheduled to die by lethal injection for killing a man. It was ironic because while in prison he received chemotherapy to save his life only to be executed by the state. Strapped onto the medical gurney, doctors searched his body for a vein; that search would mean Hamm would be stuck multiple times and crying out for death as he underwent an agonizing process that had to be halted.
Bernard Harcourt, Hamm’s attorney, is now suing the Alabama Department of Corrections for the cruel and unusual punishment that was inflicted on his client in an attempt to put him to death. Harcourt stated that Hamm was stabbed with a needle five times, three on one leg and two on the other. As part of the insertion process, the doctors would dig around with the needle looking for a vein and hit Hamm’s shinbone, causing him excruciating pain.
The two doctors spent 30 minutes trying unsuccessfully to find a vein when a prison official ordered them to stop and get out of the room. The doctors protested and stated they could find a vein to kill Hamm if given more time, but they were denied. Because of the botched execution, Hamm was given a stay for his death warrant. According to Hamm’s lawyer, his client was too weak to stand after the ordeal, was left bleeding from the groin and urinated blood an hour later.
Death by lethal injection has been part of an ongoing debate the last five years because many drug companies are refusing to supply the execution drugs. Part of this is the fear that the company could be sued for knowingly providing the drugs to participate in the death of a person by the state.
Another is the drug combination used in executing is by its very nature cruel and unusual. The chemicals being used include a sedative — pentobarbital or midazolam — followed by rocuronium bromide to halt breathing, and potassium chloride to stop the heart. Executions in states using a similar combination have resulted in the inmate suffering what some would call a cruel death as they gasped for air and writhed in pain.