Should Executions Be Made Public?

By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 14, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Before 1936, the United States had a long history of public executions.

Rainey Bethea was the last person to be hanged publicly, when he was put to death that year for murdering and raping a 70-year-old woman. But that "carnival in Owensboro" led to a banning of public executions in America.

Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, changed that when he requested a public execution in 2001. Doyle Lee Hamm wanted next, and a federal judge wanted to give it to him.

Who Will Decide?

Hamm said he wanted to die quickly as Alabama executioners tried to administer a lethal injection. According to reports, however, they couldn't find a vein and repeatedly punctured his legs and groin.

In a case filed by media interests on behalf of the convicted murderer, Judge Karon O. Bowdre said the public has a "great interest in understanding how the state carries out its punishment" and ordered the procedure be made public. The state appealed the decision.

Alabama wanted the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to review the case. In the meantime, the trial judge stayed her orders.

Would Be "Torture"

More importantly for Hamm, the state Attorney General decided not to seek a new execution date for him. Because of medical conditions, his lawyers said, it would be "torture."

The issue, however, will continue through the courts. The media still wants lethal injection procedures to be made public in Alabama.

Meanwhile, in a separate case, the Texas Supreme Court ordered criminal justice officials to reveal where they got their execution drugs. That decision followed a similar ruling in the case from the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

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