Three death row inmates in three different states were set to be executed on the same day (Thursday) for the first time in eight years. And, as is so frequently the case, the executions didn’t go as planned.
Two of the three prisoners — Doyle Lee Hamm in Alabama and Bart Whitaker in Texas — had their executions halted at the last minute. A third, Eric Scott Branch, who was convicted of the 1993 rape and murder of a college student, screamed “Murderers!” multiple times on a gurney while he was being put to death at Florida State Prison. In his last words before the lethal injection, Branch reportedly said that Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi should be the ones administering his death sentence.
“Successful” executions like Branch’s have become less common over the past years, largely because of increasing difficulty for states trying to procure the necessary drugs. Popular support for the death penalty is also at its lowest levels since the early 1970s. Across the U.S. in 2017, 23 people were executed, the lowest number since 1991.
What happened in Texas and Alabama on Thursday has become the new norm: executions getting delayed or canceled for various reasons.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott granted clemency to 38-year-old Whitaker for the murder of his mother and brother, just 40 minutes before Whitaker was scheduled to be executed, following the recommendation of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Kent Whitaker, Bart’s father, who survived the shooting, has since become an advocate for his son, and successfully pushed the parole board to unanimously recommend life imprisonment without parole instead of the death sentence. Kent said his son had become a different person from the time he committed the murders.
In Alabama, 61-year-old Hamm successfully argued that his veins were weak from cancer treatment and drug use, which would make the process of lethal injection excessively painful and cruel. Hamm, who shot and killed a motel clerk in 1987 during a robbery, was granted a temporary stay of execution by U.S. District Court judge Karen O. Bowdre.
Cover image: This photo combo shows death row immates, from left, Thomas Whitaker from Texas, Doyle Lee Hamm from Alabama, and Eric Scott Branch from Florida. (AP Photo/File)