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Dying on death row

Alabama is going to execute a man who is dying of cancer

Alabama has executed 26 inmates in the last decade. What’s different about Thursday’s scheduled execution of 61-year old convicted murderer Doyle Lee Hamm is that he has terminal cancer — a condition his lawyer contends the state has been medically treating just so it can be the one to end Hamm’s life.

“What they’re doing is a delicate balance of keeping him alive just long enough that they can be the ones who execute him, and that he doesn’t die of natural causes,” Bernard E. Harcourt, a Columbia Law School professor who has been representing Hamm pro-bono since the early '90s, told VICE News.


Hamm, who was sentenced to death for the murder of Cullman County, Ala. motel clerk Patrick Cunningham back in 1987, has been on death row for 30 years. Since Hamm was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 2014, his lawyer has repeatedly argued that killing him via lethal injection could result in a botched execution because his cancer treatment has impaired his veins.

“[If] it's a compromised vein, the lethal drugs don't go into the blood system…but into your flesh causing what's called infiltration” Harcourt said. “[It’s] an extraordinarily painful death, rather than going into your bloodstream. This is beyond ghoulish.”

The United Nations agreed, and has said killing Hamm intravenously could be tantamount to torture.

But Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall rejected a request to halt Hamm’s execution in a Facebook video posted on Wednesday morning. The state of Alabama has also disputed Harcourt’s claim that Hamm is dying of cancer, contending that he is in remission.

Harcourt is set to file a last-ditch motion to the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of execution on Thursday morning, but told VICE News he is not optimistic that Hamm won’t be killed as scheduled tomorrow night.

This segment originally aired on February 21, 2018, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.