A death row inmate was left with a dozen puncture wounds after he was repeatedly jabbed in the legs, ankles and groin during what his lawyer described as a “torturous and bloody” botched execution.
Two execution team members spent two and a half hours on each side of Doyle Lee Hamm’s lower body, searching for a vein.
The 61-year-old, who has terminal cancer, has been on death row for 30 years and was supposed to be executed by lethal injection on Thursday for the 1987 murder of a motel clerk during a robbery.
The US Supreme Court delayed the execution to consider an appeal by his lawyer Bernard Harcourt, who had argued there was a risk of a botched execution because a history of intravenous drug use had severely compromised Hamm’s veins.
Judges, however, gave it the go-ahead and Alabama officials said the execution had been postponed because the delay had left them with little preparation and Hamm’s death warrant expired at midnight.
In fact, the execution team’s attempts to find a vein – which at one point included turning the inmate onto his stomach on a stretcher and slapping the back of his legs – failed.
The execution was eventually called off at 11.27pm.
“It was a gory, botched execution. They gave up when they could not find a vein,” Mr Harcourt said afterwards.
“Our case was that this would be tortuous and bloody and they wouldn’t succeed.”
He said personnel were “probing his flesh and inserting needles” and “almost certainly punctured Doyle’s bladder, because he was urinating blood for the next day”.
“They were grinding a needle in his shine for many minutes, painfully,” said Mr Harcourt.
He added: “Doyle was lying there praying and hoping that they could succeed because of the pain.”
Alabama Department of Corrections commissioner Jeff Dunn said: “I wouldn’t necessarily characterise what we had tonight as a problem…the only indication I have is that in their medical judgement it was more of a time issue given the late hour.”
The execution is being reviewed by a federal court and a district judge has ordered a medical examination of Hamm.
State officials must also preserve any evidence, including his clothing.
Records from Georgia show that it typically takes that state less than 20 minutes to prepare an inmate for lethal injection, although there have been exceptions.
Alabama carries out executions by lethal injection unless an inmate requests the electric chair.
Elsewhere on the same day, the execution of Eric Scott Branch for the 1993 rape and murder of a college student went ahead as planned.
The 47-year-old thrashed about on his stretcher and shouted “murderers!” three times as he was put to death by lethal injection.
Meanwhile, 38-year-old Thomas “Bart” Whitaker, who hired a gunman to kill his mother and brother at their Houston home, had his death sentence commuted less than an hour before he was set to be executed.
The last-minute reprieve – from Texas governor Greg Abbott – came after the death row inmate’s father who survived the 2003 attack pleaded with the state to grant clemency.