Alabama’s governor issued a sweeping order on Monday suspending all executions in the state and ordering a review of Alabama’s execution process following a series of problems delivering lethal injection drugs this year.
The move by Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, comes four days after prison officials said they had been unable to insert one of two intravenous lines into Kenneth Eugene Smith before his death warrant expired at midnight. That episode was the third time this year in which Alabama executioners failed to reach a death row prisoner’s veins and the second time in less than two months that the problems forced the state to call off an execution.
Ms. Ivey said she had asked the state’s attorney general to withdraw Alabama’s two pending requests for execution dates and seek no more until the investigation is over. She ordered prison officials to conduct a “top-to-bottom” review but also said that she was confident that prison officials were not at fault and that “legal tactics and criminals hijacking the system” were responsible for the problems.
Lawyers for death row prisoners often make a flurry of last-minute appeals to try to delay or halt an execution. In the two most recent executions in Alabama, those appeals stretched into the night, meaning that, once the Supreme Court dismissed them, prison officials had less time to carry out the executions before the death warrants expired at midnight.
“For the sake of the victims and their families, we’ve got to get this right,” Ms. Ivey said in a statement. In a reference to the William C. Holman prison, which houses the execution chamber, she added: “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.”
Alabama’s executions came under scrutiny this year following the July execution of Joe Nathan James, when the death chamber staff struggled for hours to access his veins and, according to a private autopsy, sliced into one of his arms in what is known as a “cutdown.” Then, in September, executioners were unable to insert an intravenous line into the veins of Alan Eugene Miller before the death warrant was to expire.
Mr. Miller and Mr. Smith were both returned to their cells and are among only a handful of people who have survived an attempted lethal injection execution. In a similar 2018 case in the state, prison officials were not able to insert a line into Doyle Lee Hamm, who survived the episode and died of natural causes in prison last year.