Alabama releases execution procedures after federal judge’s order

Published 8:17 am Thursday, October 17, 2019

Alabama on Wednesday made its execution protocol public after being ordered to do so by a federal judge.

The Alabama Department of Corrections filed a redacted copy of its execution procedure with the federal court following a legal fight with news outlets over the release of the information. A judge allowed the state to keep some of the information secret for security reasons.

The 17-page document spells out procedures for before, during and after an execution. It includes information about the testing of equipment, inmate visitation, the consciousness test performed during lethal injections and a requirement to keep logs about each execution.

Part of the released information was already known, such as the names of the drugs in the state’s lethal injection procedure, but the state had fought to keep the document secret.

The document did not include information about where the state obtains lethal injection drugs or the job titles and training of people who connect the intravenous lines to deliver the drugs.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the document is more information than has been previously been released by Alabama. However, he said it does not tell the public some important details about how executions are carried out in the state.

“It lacks critical information and redacts other important information that leaves Alabama executions secret and unaccountable,” Dunham said after briefly reviewing the document.

Dunham noted that a section about execution logs was redacted and that it did not include information about the source of drugs.

The Associated Press, The Montgomery Advertiser and the Alabama Media Group had asked the court last year to unseal the protocol and other records involved in a lawsuit brought by death row inmate whose execution was later halted because of problems.

Alabama called off Doyle Lee Hamm’s execution last year after multiple failed attempts to insert a needle into his veins. A doctor hired by Hamm’s legal team wrote in a 2018 report that Hamm, who had damaged veins from illnesses and past drug use, had 11 puncture sites from the attempted execution.

U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre ruled the public has “a common law right of access” to the records. A federal appeals court agreed.

“It may also help the public to understand how the same scenario might be repeated or avoided under the protocol as it currently stands,” Bowdre wrote of the release of the information.

Alabama has also authorized execution with nitrogen gas, but has not announced the development of a protocol for using gas to carry out a death sentence.

The state earlier this year cited security reasons for refusing to release a contract with an occupational safety firm. The head of the Alabama Legislature’s Contract Review Committee said the attorney general’s office indicated the contract was related to litigation over nitrogen gas as an execution method.