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Alabama inmate claims he is at risk for ‘botched’ execution

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama stood ready Thursday to execute an inmate who argued that there is an increased risk of a botched execution because of damage to his veins from lymphoma and other illnesses.

Doyle Lee Hamm, 61, is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection at a southwest Alabama prison.

Hamm was convicted in the 1987 killing of motel clerk Patrick Cunningham. Cunningham was shot once in the head while working an overnight shift at a Cullman motel. Police said $410 was taken during the robbery.

Hamm gave police a confession and he was convicted after two accomplices testified against him in exchange for being allowed to plead guilty to lesser offenses, according to court documents.

The state of Hamm’s health, and veins, were the subject of court filings as his attorney sought to stop the execution and the state argued it should proceed.

With his execution just hours away, Hamm asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused a stay.

A lawyer for Hamm asked the justices to consider whether federal courts should be involved in developing execution procedures for infirmed inmates.

Hamm was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma in 2014. His attorney argued there was evidence that the blood cancer had progressed, while the state contended he was in remission.

His attorney urged the courts to block the execution, citing damage to Hamm’s veins from cancer, hepatitis C and former drug use and the state’s plans to adjust the lethal injection process. After a medical review ordered by a federal judge found that Hamm had no easily useable veins in his upper extremities, the state told courts last week that it will connect the line to useable veins in his hips, legs or feet.

Bernard Harcourt, Hamm’s attorney, wrote in a filing to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the state previously denied Hamm had venous access problems and the “rush to settle on this creative and novel protocol — simply as a means to execute Doyle Hamm as quickly and cheaply as possible — shows a deliberate indifference to his well-being that violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.”

The Alabama attorney general’s office argued that the execution should proceed. State lawyers said Hamm’s lymphoma has been in remission since 2016 and said dismissed his claims of elevated pain risk as “hyperbole.”

The prison warden, responding to a request from the 11th Circuit for additional information, submitted an affidavit saying the state was capable of administering the intravenous line though Hamm’s veins in his lower extremities.

“It has been more than thirty years since Hamm committed his capital murder. Hamm’s conviction is valid and a competent state court with jurisdiction over his case set his execution date according to Alabama law,” state lawyers wrote.

Executions are also scheduled to take place Thursday in Texas and Florida.

Thomas “Bart” Whitaker, 38, is on death row for masterminding the fatal shootings of his mother and brother at their suburban Houston home in 2003. Whitaker’s father, Kent, says he forgives his son, and the state parole board recommended that Gov. Greg Abbott commute the sentence to life in prison. But Abbott is free to let the death sentence be carried out.

In Florida, barring a last-minute stay, 47-year-old Eric Scott Branch will be put to death by lethal injection in the 1993 rape and fatal beating of a college student. Branch was sentenced under Florida’s old capital punishment system, which was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the state’s new system of sentencing does not apply to inmates sentenced to death before 2002.

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