MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — Only a clock stopped the execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith. Now, just over a month later, time may no longer be a burden for Alabama officials tasked with ending the life of its citizens.
A change to court rules has now given Alabama’s governor the power to decide how long the state’s executioners can attempt to end the life of a citizen. The change comes after three botched attempts at lethal injections in the state, only one of which led to the death of the condemned.
On Thursday, the Alabama Supreme Court ordered the change to Rule 8, which deals with appeals related to executions. The new rule states that the governor will decide the specific time frame of the execution itself.
“The supreme court shall at the appropriate time enter an order authorizing the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections to carry out the inmate’s sentence of death within a time frame set by the governor,” the new rule states.
Gov. Kay Ivey had requested changes to court rules on executions in December, but had not specifically asked the court to hand the power to set execution time frames over to the governor’s office.
“If the date designated in the execution warrant passes by reason of a stay of execution, or due to a delay in the execution process caused by a stay of execution, then a new date shall be designated promptly by the Commissioner of Corrections,” Ivey said in a letter outlining her proposed changes.
On Thursday, a representative of Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, an organization run by the men of Alabama’s death row, said that the rule change is likely to lead to extended periods of torture.
“Over and over again, Alabama tortured Joe James, Alan Miller, and Kenny Smith by poking and prodding them in invasive, often unsuccessful attempts to gain access to their veins,” the men of Alabama’s death row said. “Alabama’s governor should not have the power to make that process last as long as the state wishes. It could mean unending torture.”
Under the proposed rule, a representative of Project Hope said, those facing execution could suffer attempts to access their veins for hours without end — torture they say is forbidden by the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments.
“The Court’s new rule will not help the integrity or reliability of executions, it is unguided by the Rules Committee and will add more uncertainty and doubt about the fairness of executions in Alabama,” said Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery.
Officials with the Alabama ACLU had criticized Ivey’s request for a rule change in December.
“The governor is asking that the very people who botched multiple executions be given additional time to violate the 8th Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment,” said Alison Mollman, senior counsel for the legal organization.
Court officials published the rule change Friday morning.
The governor’s office had not yet responded to requests for comment on the rule change as of publication time.