Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey asks to pause executions after third failed lethal injection

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has suspended executions in the state, calling for a "top-to-bottom review" of the state’s capital punishment system Monday after a third failed lethal injection.

Ivey had asked the state Attorney General Steve Marshall to withdraw motions seeking execution dates for two inmates and requested that the Department of Corrections undertake a review of the state’s execution process, according to a statement from Ivey’s office. Ivey also requested that Marshall not seek additional execution dates for other death row inmates until the full review is completed.

The decision follows Alabama abandoning its scheduled execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith before midnight on Nov. 17 after the execution team had difficulties finding a vein for the lethal injection.

This was the state’s second instance of being unable to put an inmate to death in the past two months, where similar problems prevented the state from going forward with the scheduled execution of Alan Eugene Miller on Sept. 22, and its third instance since 2018.

The state had completed an execution in July, but only after a three-hour delay caused at least partly by the same problem with starting an IV line.

ALABAMA EXECUTIONS: Alabama death row inmate 'strapped to a gurney' for hours in state's third failed execution

For both cases in the past two months, appeals filed on behalf of the condemned men were argued well into the evening. The U.S. Supreme Court cleared Alabama to continue with each planned execution — Miller at shortly after 9 p.m. on Sept. 22, and Smith at about 10:20 p.m. on Nov. 17 — but the state was unable to complete preparations before their death warrants expired at midnight.

Marshall didn't immediately respond if he would agree to Ivey's request. The attorney general "read the governor's and commissioner's comments with interest" and "will have more to say on this at a later date," said spokesman Mike Lewis.

Ivey blamed those legal maneuverings, not state prison employees, for why the state failed to execute the men.

"I don’t buy for a second the narrative being pushed by activists that these issues are the fault of the folks at Corrections or anyone in law enforcement, for that matter. I believe that legal tactics and criminals hijacking the system are at play here," she said in a statement released Monday morning.

In Smith's case, the state apparently didn't wait for the Supreme Court decision to begin preparations. His attorneys say Smith was strapped to the death chamber gurney at Holman Correctional Facility for four hours, even as his request for a stay was pending before the U.S. 11th Circuit Court. Smith, 57, was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection for the contract killing of Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett in 1988.

The state's scheduled execution of Miller on Sept. 22 was halted before midnight when the execution team was unable to establish IV access in his arms, hands and right foot for more than an hour, based on Miller’s recollection of the night. Miller has since sued the state to prevent a second attempt, and the state was said to be negotiating a settlement with him.

Miller was sentenced to death for the killing of three men in two workplace shootings in Shelby County in 1999.

The governor said she made her decision in consideration of victims' loved ones who await executions, seeking closure and justice. "I simply cannot, in good conscience, bring another victim’s family to Holman looking for justice and closure, until I am confident that we can carry out the legal sentence," she said in a statement.

The state on July 28 put Joe Nathan James Jr. to death after a three-hour delay during which the team struggled to find suitable veins for lethal injection, prison officials later reported.

LETHAL INJECTION ISSUES IN ALABAMA: 'Veins could not be accessed': Alabama halts man's execution for time, medical concerns

It's still unclear what else may have occurred before the lethal injection was administered: When media witnesses were permitted in the viewing area, James did not open his eyes or show any deliberate movements. He did not speak when asked if he had any final words.

ADOC officials later said James was not sedated but that they could not say whether he was "fully conscious" before being given the lethal dose. The state has refused attempts by the Advertiser to review records from James' execution, including protocols and the qualifications of those charged with preparing inmates for execution.

James was put to death for the 1994 killing of his former girlfriend, Faith Hall, of Birmingham. Several members of Hall's family, including her children, asked that Ivey commute the sentence, but she refused, saying she considers the feelings of the victim’s loved ones but “must always fulfill our responsibility to the law, to public safety and to justice.”

Prison officials have maintained the delays were the result of the state carefully following procedures.

Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Hamm said ADOC's review of execution procedures will be wide-reaching.

"Everything is on the table – from our legal strategy in 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," Hamm said in a statement. "The Alabama Department of Corrections is fully committed to this effort and confident that we can get this done right.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Alabama temporarily pauses executions after failed lethal injections