Alabama Inmate With Cancer Settles Execution Fight

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By Jordan S. Rubin

Alabama apparently dropped its bid to execute cancer-stricken killer Doyle Lee Hamm after years of legal wrangling and a botched attempt to carry out his death sentence.

Hamm and the state moved jointly March 26 to resolve litigation surrounding his impending execution and the constitutional claims he raised against it.

“This is a great relief to Doyle Hamm,” his longtime attorney Bernard Harcourt of Columbia Law School said in a statement on the school’s website. “It comes after lengthy, fruitful discussions with the Alabama Attorney General’s office.”

The settlement prevents “any further execution attempts,” according to a March 26 post, attributed to Harcourt, on the school’s site devoted the case.

In response to requests from Bloomberg Law, neither Harcourt nor the state would elaborate further.

“The State of Alabama can confirm that the two parties have jointly filed a notice to voluntarily dismiss Doyle Hamm’s federal lawsuit,” public information manager Joy Patterson of the state attorney general’s office said.

“I can just confirm the joint voluntary dismissal,” Harcourt said.

But despite the parties’ reticence to discuss the state’s execution plans, capital defense expert Eric M. Freedman pointed to American Bar Association guidelines that caution attorneys against entering into agreements that don’t save their clients from the ultimate punishment.

So “the obvious implication” of the settlement is that Alabama has agreed not to seek execution, Freedman, a professor at Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., told Bloomberg Law.

“It’s inconceivable that Hamm’s lawyer would have agreed to any settlement which did not contain that condition,” Freedman said.

Hamm was convicted of robbery-murder and sentenced to death in 1987. He developed lymphatic cancer and carcinoma while on death row.

After a divided U.S. Supreme Court denied his execution stay Feb. 22, the state tried that night, unsuccessfully, to execute him.

The reason it didn’t work was because of Hamm’s health issues, he said.

Executioners wouldn’t be able to access his veins to perform the state’s preferred method of lethal injection, he argued in court filings leading up to the attempt.

Or at least they couldn’t do so easily.

It was a “prolonged, exceedingly painful, bloody, and botched attempt,” Harcourt said on Hamm’s behalf in a March 5 filing, reflecting on the incident and arguing against another.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jordan S. Rubin in Washington at jrubin@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at rlarson@bloomberglaw.com

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