Kenneth Eugene Smith, 57, was convicted of the 1988 contract killing of a preacher’s wife and was due to be executed Thursday, according to the Associated Press. However, the trial was dropped after officers failed to find a vein through which to administer the deadly drugs.
Prison staff spent “about an hour” locating a vein and trying “several sites” on the body of prisoner, Alabama Correctional Commissioner John Hamm told reporters.
“We started our log at 11:21 am [p.m.] We have decided that we will not be able to finalize this protocol before midnight when the death penalty expires,” the commissioner told reporters.
The team gained access to a vein, Hamm said, but were unable to create the second IV line protocol required for lethal injection executions. Attempts to establish a central approach, in which a catheter is inserted into a large vein, have also been unsuccessful, he said.
The same problem arose when 57-year-old prisoner Alan Eugene Miller was due to be executed in September. His scheduled execution was halted after 2½ hours when no vein could be found – although the state later traced the suspension to a spate of last-minute legal acts over the method for Miller’s execution that reached as far as the U.S. Supreme Court.
The execution was stopped at the last minute when prison staff from Ala. couldn’t find a vein
In 2018, the execution of Doyle Hamm was also stopped after problems connecting the IV line, the AP reported at the time. Doyle Hamm, whose veins had been damaged by illness and previous drug use, later died in prison of cancer.
In her statement, Ivey denied that law enforcement or correctional officials were responsible for the problems that plagued the executions, saying she believes “legal tactics and criminals hijacking the system are at play.” She added, “For the sake of the victims and their families, we have to get this right.”
The Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit that reports on death penalty issues, welcomed the call for a review but said the investigation must be fully independent. “The Alabama Department of Corrections has a history of denying and twisting the truth about its execution errors and cannot be trusted to meaningfully investigate its own incompetence and wrongdoing,” the organization’s executive director said in a statement on Monday.
Other executions in the state have also been controversial. In July, Joe Nathan James – who shot and killed his former girlfriend in 1994 – was executed despite objections from his victim’s family. According to a private autopsy, James’ execution lasted more than three hours and again involved problems setting up an IV line, the AP reported.
States like Oklahoma have conducted grand jury investigations into the use of lethal injection. One of the most notorious cases, condemned by both President Barack Obama and the United Nations, was the botched execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett. During the execution, Lockett, who was presumed unconscious, began to convulse and convulse on the stretcher. After 43 minutes of apparent agony, he died of a heart attack.
According to a June 2021 Pew research, around 64 percent of Americans believe the death penalty for crimes like murder is morally justified — although a similar number of respondents agreed that punishment does not deter people from committing serious crimes. 78 percent of people said that was the case “some risk” that an innocent person could be executed.