Attorneys and advocates ask for independent review of Alabama executions

By: - February 23, 2023 2:01 pm
A bag of the sedative midazolam, with tubing and a needle attached

According to Alabama Department of Corrections protocols, midazolam is the first drug used in the state’s lethal injection process. (Getty)

Attorneys and other advocates throughout Alabama sent a letter to Gov. Kay Ivey and Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Hamm Thursday calling for an independent review of the state’s execution protocols.

The letter, signed by about 64 people, urges Ivey to model that review on a recent review of Tennessee’s execution protocols conducted by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee.

“There is much information that can be learned from other conservative states that have done the important work of examining how our justice system carries out executions,” the letter said. “We hope that this can be used to supplement whatever additional
considerations are already in place for the investigation that was announced in November 2022.”

Messages seeking comment were sent to Gov. Ivey’s office on Thursday.

The letter comes on the heels of a similar letter signed by 170 faith leaders in Alabama that also asked for an independent review of Alabama’s execution methods. That letter also referred to governors of other states who ordered a review of executions by legal experts, as well as other people involved in the process.

Ivey ordered an internal review of the state’s execution protocol last November after a series of executions went wrong. The execution of Joe Nathan James Jr. last July was delayed two-and-a-half hours; The Atlantic later reported that an autopsy found multiple puncture wounds on James, suggesting difficulties establishing an IV line. DOC official said they could not confirm if James was unconscious before fatal drugs were administered, as required by the most recent known protocol.

In September, the DOC called off the execution of Alan Miller after DOC staff failed to establish a connection to a vein. spent two hours attempting to establish a connection to a vein. Miller said in a later court filing that he was left hanging vertically on a gurney and repeatedly stabbed by needles. The execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith’s execution was called off in November, also due to difficulties establishing an IV line.

The letter sent to Ivey Thursday laid out several questions an independent review should answer, including the qualifications and training of staff present at executions; whether physicians are present; whether DOC is using commercially available or compounded drugs in executions, and where it obtains them.

It also goes into prescriptive measures determined in a report that Tennessee published, such as hiring a full-time person with a pharmaceutical background who would provide guidance on the lethal injection process.

The letter also recommends establishing a committee to review testing data prior to each scheduled execution.

“It is preposterous to believe that the agency responsible for botching multiple executions can responsibly and thoroughly investigate itself and suggest remedies to correct its own behavior,” Alison Mollman, senior counsel for the ACLU of Alabama, said in a statement released with the letter.


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Ralph Chapoco
Ralph Chapoco

Ralph Chapoco covers state politics as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. His main responsibility is the criminal justice system in Alabama.