Three weeks from this Thursday, Doyle Hamm was, by all accounts, tortured at the hands of the state of Alabama in a botched execution. Doyle Hamm was the first person in the history of Alabama’s use of lethal injection to walk out of the execution chamber alive. For over two hours, the execution team painfully probed and jabbed Doyle Hamm, as he lay strapped to the execution gurney, first in his feet, ankles, and shin, and then in his groin, in a fruitless attempt to obtain venous access. The state permitted hours of this painful and bloody mess, during which Doyle Hamm hoped they would find a vein so he could die, despite months of notice that Doyle Hamm’s veins were largely inaccessible and unusable because of his battle with cancer. Following the execution, media outlets referred to it as “the torture of Doyle Hamm,” “ghoulish” and a “lesson in the consequences of inhumanity,” and “cruel and unusual.” Even a leading newspaper in Alabama described what happened as “torture in Alabama’s death chamber.”
Yet, this Thursday, March 15—a mere three weeks since Doyle Hamm’s botched and torturous execution—the state of Alabama plans to move forward with its next execution. This is without any explanation, not one word, of what happened three weeks ago when it was forced, for the first time ever, to call off its planned lethal injection. On Thursday, in the same execution chamber, on the same execution gurney that Doyle Hamm lay on, the state will execute Michael Eggers—a severely mentally ill man, convicted in 2000. His lawyers, in a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court filed on Monday, explained that “we have a mentally ill death-sentenced inmate using Alabama’s system as his method of suicide because he cannot get anyone to believe that his delusions are not delusions.”
While the execution of Eggers itself raises serious constitutional questions, an equally critical question remains, which has neither been asked nor addressed: How can Alabama, without having answered at all for its botched and torturous execution of Doyle Hamm a mere three weeks ago, be permitted to simply move on to execute the next man on its death row? Why is no one demanding an explanation? And why is Alabama not at least publicly explaining that what happened three weeks ago was not a systematic breakdown of its death-penalty system?
For too long, a shroud of secrecy has clouded Alabama’s death-penalty system. By contrast to practically all other states with the death penalty, Alabama keeps its execution protocol secret, meaning no one even knows how its lethal-injection process works. Three weeks since the first botched execution in Alabama’s history of lethal injection, little is known about what happened that evening, except what we learned from Doyle Hamm’s account. The commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, other than his unconscionable and widely mocked comment from that evening that there had been no problem, has otherwise refused to acknowledge or address the botched execution. The governor of Alabama has also said nothing. The state has refused to say why the execution failed, why two methods of intravenous access were attempted, who attempted the execution, what qualifications those men and/or women had (or did not have), and more simply at what point and why Governor Kay Ivey chose to call off the execution. It has even refused to address images of Doyle Hamm, taken by a medical expert two days after the failed execution, showing violent bruising and puncture wounds from his ankles to his groin.
The state of Alabama has chosen to use silence to deflect what was ostensibly a breakdown in its death-penalty system. But the public, media, and citizens, we all are also to blame. We too have remained silent, without widespread calls for answers, even an investigation, into this torturous botched execution. It is not too late to call for accountability, to thwart Alabama’s use of silence as a means to continue its lethal injection system, with Michael Eggers as its next target. Not one execution should be permitted in Alabama until the Alabama Department of Corrections and Governor Ivey answer for what happened three weeks ago when Doyle Hamm survived hours of torture to walk out of the execution chamber.
In the meantime, we permit the state’s silence to be lethal.