Doyle Hamm, who survived a botched execution, dies in prison at age 64

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Doyle Hamm, a convicted murderer who in 2018 became the fourth death row inmate in America to survive a botched execution by lethal injection, died Sunday at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility near Atmore, in southern Alabama. He was 64.

The cause was complications from the lymphoma and skull cancer for which he had been treated since 2014, said his pro bono attorney, Bernard E. Harcourt, a professor of law and political science at Columbia University.

Mr Hamm was terminally ill when the death sentence was due to be carried out, on 22nd February 2018 at 9pm. Doctors had warned that his arteries were inaccessible because of his treatment for cancer and hepatitis C, as well as his intravenous drug use. As a result, an execution team struggled for nearly three hours, getting stabbed at least 11 times in his legs, ankles and groin and apparently injuring several organs, before giving up at 11:27 p.m. as the legal death sentence expired at midnight.

“I wouldn’t necessarily characterize what we had tonight as a problem,” Alabama corrections commissioner Jeff Dunn said in a statement that stunned reporters at a news conference at the time.

The correctional officers had been told by a judge that Mr. Hamm were banned because his veins were so affected. Mr Hamm himself had suggested administering the lethal drugs orally. But that would not be allowed under the state’s execution protocol.

Mr Harcourt filed a civil rights lawsuit in which he described the failed attempt as unconstitutional, cruel and unusual punishment and warned that any further attempt by the state would be challenged as subjecting Mr Hamm to double jeopardy.

“This was a bit of slaughter that can only be described as torture,” Mr Harcourt told Roger Cohen, then an opinion columnist for The New York Times, shortly afterwards. Mr. Cohen wrote two columns attacking the execution attempt, one under the headline “Death Penalty Madness in Alabama.”

This week, Mr. Harcourt told Mr. Cohen by email that “there is no doubt” that the attention he was giving the case “forced the hand of the Alabama Attorney General and led them to an agreement with me.” entering into that they would not seek another execution date.”

Details of that agreement, on March 26, 2018, were kept confidential, but amounted to a life sentence.

Hamm had been on death row since 1987, when he confessed to participating in the robbery of the Anderson Motel in Cullman, Ala., in which a night clerk, Patrick Cunningham, was fatally shot at the Temple with a .38 caliber handgun. Mr. Hamm had stolen in a robbery he committed earlier that day, January 24 of that year, in Mississippi.

The cash register was emptied of $350, and another $60 was taken from Mr. Cunningham’s wallet. Two witnesses were later charged as co-defendants, but testified for the prosecution.

Mr. Harcourt helped avert Mr. Hamm’s execution for three decades, beginning in 1990, by teaming up with Bryan Stevenson, an Alabama attorney who had started an organization to defend needy criminals in high-profile cases.

On appeal to the United States Supreme Court, Mr. Harcourt argued that his client had been given a woefully inadequate defense, that mitigating evidence about his background was never presented, and that a judge’s 89-page ruling against Mr. Hamm was upheld. word for word from a document filed by the Attorney General a business day earlier.

Doyle Lee Hamm was born on February 14, 1957 in Lancaster, California, the 10th of 12 children of Eula Mae Howell and Major Edward Hamm, a World War II veteran whose first name was not his army rank, but one given at birth. . Doyle’s six older brothers were in prison. So did his father, who occasionally worked as a carpenter and cotton picker. One of Doyle’s sisters quoted her father as saying, “If you don’t go out and steal, you’re not Hamm.”

Doyle Hamm married Cammie Crab in 1981; they divorced the following year, after the birth of their daughter, Maranda. His survivors are his daughter; a brother, Danny Wayne Hamm; and a grandniece, Dwan Powell.

Mr Hamm had an IQ of 66 in sixth grade, possibly a result of part of the fetal alcohol syndrome. He failed in the first grade and dropped out of school in the eighth grade.

When he was 20, Mr Hamm pleaded guilty to a robbery that had taken place in a bar parking lot and was sentenced to five years in prison after his court-appointed attorney quoted in court documents that he, the attorney, had been “too busy and overworked to give this case the time and attention it needed”; the victim later withdrew.

Lethal injection was first practiced by Oklahoma in 1977 because it was considered a more humane and less expensive method of capital punishment than electrocution or lethal gas, practices already allowed in several states. Mr. Hamm was sentenced to death by electrocution, but Alabama’s electric chair, nicknamed Yellow Mama because of its color, was shut down when the state carried out its first execution by lethal injection in 2002.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the older inmates on death row and the more ailments they face, the more likely that executions by lethal injection will fail.

Mr Harcourt said by email that his client “actually came closer to death and survived than anyone given a lethal injection.”

“Doyle Hamm’s case will be a tragic illustration of how a government’s uncritical and relentless pursuit of justice can turn a justice system into a form of human sacrifice,” continued Mr. Harcourt, “as prosecutors from Alabama and its most exalted state and federal judges desperately tried to sacrifice a frail 61-year-old man dying of cancer to take his life before nature — or God — could take its course.”

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