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Alabama Again Cancels an Execution Over Delays Inserting IV Lines

Alabama called off its plans to execute a man on Thursday after a whirlwind few hours in which the Supreme Court allowed the execution to proceed, but prison officials determined they did not have enough time to kill the man before his death warrant expired at midnight.

It was the second time in less than two months that Alabama had brought a prisoner into its execution chamber, strapped him to a gurney and begun trying to insert intravenous lines — only to call off the execution and return him to his cell. In both cases, it appeared that prison officials had struggled to insert the lines into the prisoners after last-minute appeals were thrown out by the Supreme Court.

On Thursday, officials began trying to insert intravenous lines into the man, Kenneth Eugene Smith, shortly after 10 p.m., but were able to insert only one of the two lines through which the lethal injection drugs could flow. John Q. Hamm, the commissioner of Alabama’s prisons, said at a news conference that prison officials determined that they could not insert a second, necessary line before the death warrant expired, and at 11:21 p.m. temporarily called the execution off. He said the people attempting to carry out the execution had tried to insert a line into “several locations” without success.

Maya Foa, the director of Reprieve U.S., a group that opposes the death penalty and has been highlighting Alabama’s problems inserting IV lines, said the botched executions amounted to torture.

“The recent spate of disastrous lethal injection executions have shown that whatever the drug, whatever the protocol, condemned prisoners often spend their final hours in agonizing pain and distress,” Ms. Foa said.