Doyle Lee Hamm is a former Alabama death row inmate whose resume as a career criminal included burglary, assault and grand larceny. At the age of twenty, he was arrested after a drunken fight in a bar parking lot, which began over an attempted robbery. Hamm pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 5 years in prison. In January 1987, Hamm went on a crime spree that culminated in a motel robbery and the murder of Patrick Cunningham, a nighttime clerk at the motel. After confessing to the robbery and murder, he was sentenced to death by lethal injection.
Over the next three decades, serious flaws in the case began to come to light. Hamm’s original defence attorney had only spent 19 minutes presenting mitigation evidence. None of the educational and medical records that showed Hamm may have brain damage or intellectual disability were presented. Additionally, evidence that he suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome and only had an IQ of 66 was never mentioned. But while these failures had helped keep him alive, they were unable to stop his scheduled execution on February 22, 2018.
Due to years of intravenous drug use, lymphatic cancer and basal cell carcinoma, Hamm’s veins were too damaged to receive the normal lethal injection. His supporters argued that executioners wanted to kill him before he died of cancer and that the lethal injection would cause him needless pain before he died. Ultimately, the medical examination found that Hamm’s arms and hands were unusable, but his lower extremities would be fit to receive the lethal dose of poison.
During the course of the execution attempt, officers spent two and a half hours inserting needles into Hamm, trying to get venous access. Needles were inserted into his legs and ankles multiple times, at one point he was turned over onto his stomach, and the back of his legs were slapped to generate a vein. When these attempts failed, the execution team began inserting needles into Hamm’s groin in hopes of finding a vein. By the time the execution was finally called off, officers had a punctured bladder and his femoral artery was penetrated. Hamm collapsed as he was removed from the gurney.
After the botched execution attempt, Hamm’s attorney filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections. The lawsuit alleged that a second execution attempt would violate the client’s Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Finally, on March 26, 2018, Hamm and the state of Alabama reached a confidential settlement. The settlement concluded that a second execution date for Hamm would never be set, meaning that his attempted execution by lethal injection had saved his life.