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Executions back on in Alabama after brief moratorium

In a letter, Gov. Kay Ivey said “it is time to resume our duty of carrying out lawful death sentences”

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A fence stands at Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Ala.

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

By Ivana Hrynkiw

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Executions are back on in Alabama.

According to an email from Gov. Kay Ivey’s communications director, Ivey received a letter Friday from Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Hamm. Hamm told the governor that the “top-to-bottom” review of the state’s execution process is complete.

“Upon receiving word from Commissioner Hamm, Governor Kay Ivey asked Attorney General Steve Marshall to ask the Supreme Court to issue an execution warrant for an eligible death row inmate whenever he deems appropriate,” said Ivey’s Communications Director Gina Maiola.

In a letter to Marshall, Ivey said, “it is time to resume our duty of carrying out lawful death sentences.”

On Friday afternoon, Marshall announced on social media that he filed a motion seeking the Alabama Supreme Court to set an execution date for James Barber. Barber has been on death row since 2004 for the fatal beating of 75-year-old Dorothy Epps.

Marshall added that his office “will be seeking death warrants for other murderers in short order.”

No details were provided as to what was learned during the internal review of the execution process, but Hamm wrote that the ADOC has “ordered and obtained new equipment” for future executions.

Yesterday, lawyers and legal professionals across Alabama sent a letter to Ivey seeking an independent investigation into the execution process.

On Nov. 21, following two failed execution attempts, Ivey ordered a halt to all executions in Alabama. “Working in conjunction with Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Hamm, Governor Ivey is asking that the Department of Corrections undertake a top-to-bottom review of the state’s execution process, and how to ensure the state can successfully deliver justice going forward,” a press release from that day stated.

Ivey also asked the Alabama AG’s office to not seek additional execution dates for any other Alabama Death Row inmates until the review is complete.

The announcement of a halt to executions came just days after Kenneth Smith’s execution was called off just before midnight on Nov. 17. The state called off the lethal injection after not being able to find veins to start the intravenous lines needed for the three-drug cocktail, which had to be done before midnight when the execution warrant expired.

[RELATED: Ala. execution protocol using nitrogen gas is expected to be finished by year’s end]

Another execution— that of Alan Miller— was called off in September for similar reasons.

The only change publicly known to Alabama’s execution protocol that was made during the three-month moratorium was a change made by the Alabama Supreme Court, ending the midnight deadline.

The state’s highest court authorized a rule change allowing for an execution warrant to be issued for a time frame rather than a single day. The rule means the governor can choose the timing of an execution, according to the court’s order.

Hamm called the midnight rule “unnecessary deadline pressure for Department personnel” in Friday’s letter.

The new rule reads in part: “The supreme court shall at the appropriate time enter an order authorizing the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections to carry out the inmate’s sentence of death within a time frame set by the governor, which time frame shall not begin less than 30 days from the date of the order...”

Prior to the court’s order, the rule had read like this: “The supreme court shall at the appropriate time enter an order fixing a date of execution, not less than 30 days from the date of the order...”

There are currently 166 inmates sitting on Alabama Death Row.

In his letter to Ivey announcing the end of the internal review, Hamm said, “After discussing the matter with my staff, I am confident that the Department is as prepared as possible to resume carrying out executions consistent with the mandates of the Constitution. This is true in spite of the fact that death row inmates will continue seeking to evade their lawfully imposed death sentences.”

[RELATED: Official: Ala.'s new execution rule gives state ‘unprecedented power’]

“When undertaking our review, I pledged that ‘Everything is on the table- from our legal strategy dealing with last minute appeals, to how we train and prepare, to the order and timing of events on execution day to the personnel and equipment involved.’ Each of these areas has been considered.”

Hamm said during the internal review, employees from the Alabama Department of Corrections communicated with other states’ corrections departments who also carried out executions. The review included “thorough reviews of execution procedures from multiple states to ensure that our process aligns with the best practices in other jurisdictions.”

He added that the prison system “has also decided to add to its pool of available medical personnel for executions.” The system to ensure those professionals have proper credentials will begin immediately, he said.

A spokesperson for the ACLU of Alabama called the investigation “flawed.”

JaTaune Bosby Gilchrist, the ACLU of Alabama’s Executive Director, said in a press release that the organization “believed (Ivey) when she said that the state would conduct a thorough investigation of the Alabama Department of Correction’s execution protocols before resuming.”

“Unfortunately, the Governor refused to follow the lead of her Republican colleagues in other states and order an independent review,” said Gilchrist. “Throughout this process, we have argued that it is unreasonable to believe that the agency responsible for botching multiple executions can thoroughly investigate itself and suggest remedies to correct its own behavior. Today’s announcement that ADOC’s investigation is complete is troubling and proves our worst concerns. It is irresponsible to believe that the state-sponsored torture of individuals would end if given more time and practice.”

NEXT: Ala. DOC head: ‘No one single thing that’s going to solve staffing issues’

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