MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said Friday that the state is ready to resume executions and “obtain justice” for victims' families after lethal injections were paused for three months for an internal review of the state's death penalty procedures.
The governor in November directed the state prison system to undertake a “top-to-bottom” review of death penalty procedures after the state was forced to cancel three lethal injections because of problems with intravenous lines. Alabama Corrections Commissioner John Hamm told Ivey in a letter shared with news outlets that his staff is ready to resume executions after making internal changes related to staffing and equipment. However, critics argued that the review should have been conducted by an outside group instead of the state agency “responsible for botching multiple executions.”
The governor's office did not release a detailed report on the review's finding, but shared the letter from the head of the prison system. Hamm said the prison system is adding to its pool of medical professionals, ordered new equipment and has conducted rehearsals. He also noted changes that will give the execution team more time to complete its duties. The Alabama Supreme Court, at Ivey's request, last month issued a ruling that gives the state more time to carry out a death sentence by allowing the warrants that authorize executions to last for longer than 24 hours.
In a Friday letter to Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, Ivey wrote that it is “time to resume our duty in carrying out lawful death sentences.” Ivey had asked Marshall to stop seeking execution dates until the review was complete.
“Far too many Alabama families have waited for far too long — often for decades — to obtain justice for the loss of a loved one and to obtain closure for themselves," Ivey said in the letter, which was also released publicly. "This brief pause in executions was necessary to make sure that we can successfully deliver that justice and that closure.”
Marshall on Friday filed a motion with the Alabama Supreme Court seeking an execution date for James Barber, who was sentenced to death for the 2001 beating death of 75-year-old Dorothy Epps. Marshall said his office would be “seeking death warrants for other murderers in short order.”
“In Alabama, we recognize that there are crimes so heinous, atrocious and cruel ... that the only just punishment is death,” Marshall said.
Ivey rebuffed requests from a group of faith leaders and advocates to follow the example of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and authorize an independent review of the state's execution procedures. Dozens of attorneys sent a letter to Ivey this week seeking an independent review instead of the internal one she authorized.
"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," JaTaune Bosby Gilchrist, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama said in a statement.
Christine Freeman, executive director of the Middle District of Alabama Federal Defender Program, a nonprofit that represents people on death row, said the result of Ivey's review is “disappointing, but sadly not surprising.”
“Instead of acting in the measured manner of the governor of Tennessee, by operating in the open with an independent commission, Alabama has once again chosen to pretend that there are no problems and not disclose what ‘review’ actually occurred,” Freeman wrote in an emailed statement.
Ivey announced a pause on executions in November after a third lethal injection failed. Executioners were unable to get an intravenous line connected to death row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith within the 100-minute window between the time courts cleared the way and midnight, when the death warrant expired.
It was the third such instance of the state calling off an execution because of IV line difficulties. The state completed an execution in July after problems establishing an IV line, but an anti-death penalty group has claimed the execution was botched.
Hamm said the Department of Corrections reviewed its training for staff and medical workers involved in executions and its legal strategy in litigation; and increased the number of medical personnel utilized by the department for executions and the equipment available to assist them. He said the department also conducted rehearsals and reviewed procedures in other states.
Hamm said the vetting process for the new medical personnel will begin immediately. His letter did not elaborate on what duties those workers will perform or what additional equipment was ordered.
“I am confident that the Department is prepared as possible to resume carrying out executions consistent with the mandates of the Constitution," Hamm wrote. “This is true in spite of the fact that death row inmates will continue seeking to evade their lawfully imposed death sentences.”
The Alabama Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to an email requesting more information.
The independent Tennessee review found the state had not complied with its own lethal injection process ever since it was revised in 2018, resulting in several executions that were conducted without proper testing of the drugs used. A review was also conducted in Oklahoma after the 2014 execution of Clayton Lockett where Lockett struggled on a gurney for 43 minutes before he was declared dead. The review was conducted by a separate state agency from the prison system.