This is how Alabama executes inmates: Court releases details on drugs, process


The gurney in a lethal injection chamber is seen through a plate glass window in one of the witness rooms Oct. 7, 2002, at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama.


The Alabama Department of Corrections has released the written procedure it uses for executing death row inmates to several media outlets under a court order.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in March that the state must release its protocol, following a May 2018 ruling by U.S. Chief District Judge Karon O. Bowdre that the public has a “common law right of access to the sealed records relating to Alabama’s lethal injection protocol.” She ordered the release of the lethal injection procedure as it was at the time of Doyle Hamm’s botched execution attempt in February 2018.

Alabama Media Group—which includes, The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times, and The Mobile Press-Register—filed the motion seeking the release of the protocol, along with The Associated Press and The Montgomery Advertiser.

The protocol was released Oct. 16 to the news organizations. The document is titled “Execution procedures, confidential” and is dated April of 2019. No information was provided on if the protocol was changed or modified since Hamm’s execution attempt in 2018.

The 17-page protocol details the process of delivering a death warrant, moving the condemned inmate to Death Watch prior to his or her execution, preparing the inmate for execution, and the procedures in which both lethal injection and electrocution are administered. Portions of the protocol were redacted after the state raised security concerns.

Beginning with when an inmate is sentenced, the protocol says male inmates must be transferred from the county of their crime to either William C. Holman Correctional Facility or William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility. Female inmates must be taken to Julia Tutwiler Prison. When the Alabama Supreme Court sets an execution date, a marshal must deliver the death warrant to the warden of Holman prison.

The warden is then tasked with notifying the inmate of his execution date if he is housed at Holman; otherwise, the warden contacts the warden of whichever prison the inmate is housed at and that warden will notify the inmate. If the inmate is not at Holman, arrangements are made for he or she to be transferred to Holman, where Alabama has its only execution chamber.

The protocol says an inmate who has received an execution date must have his or her vein structure assessed – for those being executed by lethal injection – as soon as possible by a doctor.

Before the week of an inmate’s execution, the Holman warden and a number of other, unspecified members of the execution team will meet. Members of the team are able to opt-out of their roles if they wish. The warden is also supposed to meet with the inmate and answer any questions he or she may have.

The week of the execution, the protocol says the warden and execution team are to rehearse their roles for the execution and ensure the telephone in the ADOC commissioner’s viewing room to the governor’s office and the Alabama Attorney General’s Office is working.

The protocol offers information about the inspection and testing of both lethal injection and electrocution equipment, even adding details about the sponges used in electrocutions and the rate of flow for IV tubes.

Death Watch

The inmate will be moved to Death Watch– a separate cell where he or she is held before the execution. The specific hours or days prior to the execution that the inmate will be moved to that cell is redacted.

Officers are to observe the inmate at all times during Death Watch, according to the protocol. No other staff or civilians, except medical personnel, are allowed in the Death Watch area without authorization from the warden. The cell is thoroughly inspected for any contraband before the inmate is actually moved to the cell, where the inmate is under constant observation.

In Death Watch, the inmate has a bed, “necessary linens,” and one change of clothes. All of his or her other belongings are kept outside the cell and passed to and from the inmate as needed, including mail, a telephone, and medication. There is a television sitting outside the cell.

According to the protocol, the inmate is allowed to have “a bible, or its equivalent, and any other reading material approved by the warden.”

Visitation occurs in the visitation yard, where the inmate has an unspecified number of visiting hours and can see 15 visitors at once.

On the day of execution, a meal is delivered to the inmate and someone asks the inmate what he or she would like for a last meal. The inmate is allowed for a last meal anything that can be prepared from what’s available in the institutional kitchen.

At some point that day, the protocol says officers will inventory the inmate’s property and he or she will designate where each item should go. The inmate then signs a paper with this information in front of a notary. There is also a medical evaluation, where the results are recorded in a medical record.

At the time, the warden or another representative will attain the funeral arrangements for the inmate and gather specific information to pass onto the Department of Forensic Sciences and the coroner’s office.

If the inmate has a spiritual adviser, that person may remain with the inmate until he or she is escorted to the execution chamber. Then, the spiritual adviser will be taken to the witness room if allowed to see the execution.

The inmate is then escorted to the execution chamber prepared for execution depending on which method– lethal injection or electrocution– is being administered (see below). Following the inmate’s preparation and the warden arriving in the chamber and being briefed by the execution team, the curtains to the three viewing rooms are opened.

Once the viewing room curtains are opened, the warden will read the death warrant to the inmate and ask the inmate if he or she has any last words. Those remarks are supposed to be capped at two minutes, according to the protocol.

The warden and another person, whose title is redacted in the protocol, are then to leave the chamber and two other members of the team stay in the chamber with the inmate. Once the warden checks with the commissioner to see if there are any last-minute stays of execution, the team will make a last check to the IV lines or the straps of the electric chair. Then, one member leaves the chamber and one stays, and the procedure begins.

Lethal injection

If lethal injection is the means of execution, the warden will notify the IV team and schedule a time for them to view the inmate’s veins in the weeks prior to the scheduled execution. If the team decides starting an IV through normal channels will not be possible due to an inmate’s vein structure, they will plan to start a central line.

The week of the procedure, lethal injection equipment is to be inspected and tested for an unspecified amount of time.

On the day of execution, an inmate is strapped to a gurney in the execution chamber. There, the IV Team will start the IV and heart monitor leads will be applied to the inmate. If the veins are in a condition that intravenous access cannot happen, the team will perform a central line procedure.

After the team completes the IV process, the warden will report to the chamber and will be briefed. The curtains to the viewing rooms then will open and the process will begin.

The warden will administer the solution that consists of, according to the protocol, 100 mL of midazolam hydrochloride (two 50mL syringes), 20mL of saline, 60 mL of rocuronium bromide, 20 mL of saline, 120 mL of potassium chloride (two 60 mL syringes).

After the Warden administers the 100 mLs of midazolam and 20 mLs of saline, but before the second and third chemicals, the team member in the execution chamber will assess the consciousness of the inmate. “In the unlikely event that the condemned inmate is still conscious, the warden will use the secondary IV line to administer the 100 mLs of midazolam hydrochloride in the back up set of syringes. After all 100 mL’s of midazolam hydrochloride and 20 mLs of saline are administered, the team member in the execution chamber will repeat the graded stimulation process set out above,” the protocol says.

After confirming that the inmate is unconscious, the warden will continue with administering the second and third chemicals.

The protocol did not specify where or how the department obtains the drugs.


If electrocution is how the inmate will be executed, the warden will instruct an unspecified person to examine the electric chair, commonly referred to as “Yellow Mama,” before execution week.

The electric chair shall be inspected again the week of an execution and tested three times.

On the day of execution the inmate is taken to the execution chamber and sat in the electric chair, where he or she is strapped in with an electrode attached to the inmate’s left leg and head.

After the execution day process happens and the curtains to the three viewing rooms are opened, the warden will push the button which will begin the process of 2200 volts of electricity for 20 seconds. The amount of electricity will decrease to 220 volts for the next 100 seconds.

After execution

After the process is complete, the curtains to the viewing rooms are closed and witnesses are escorted out. An unspecified person then enters the chamber and pronounces the inmate dead and declares a time of death, and the inmate is put in a body bag and taken to a van. Then, the body is transported to the Department of Forensic Sciences for an autopsy.

The protocol says there is a “brief clean up” of the execution chamber that night, and staff does a more thorough cleaning the next day.

The body may be released to the inmates’ relatives at their expense or, if the body is not claimed, the ADOC is responsible for burial.

Staff members of the execution team will also have the opportunity to meet with “Critical Incident Debriefing Team members” if they choose. Permanent logs are also formed and sent for certain officials’ signatures.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said he is pleased Alabama released something in regard to its execution process, but the document isn’t enough. “Alabama has been among the most secretive of all the states when it comes to its execution process,” he said. “It has had a highly questionable history when it comes to carrying out executions. The process has been almost complete unaccountable.”

“(But) it’s not close to enough. The process remains secretive and unaccountable. The public deserves more and needs more if there is going to be public oversight.”

Dunham said the protocol released is “woefully inadequate” and fails to mention the titles of execution team members and what kind of training they have, and also fails to detail a step-by-step process of how the execution takes place. “There is no legitimate interest in refusing to disclose the staff position that has particular responsibilities for carrying out an execution,” he said.

He adds that the date of the protocol, which is dated over a year following Hamm’s failed execution attempt, is concerning. The team’s attempt to insert an IV into Hamm’s veins, which his lawyer had argued were compromised due to illness and prior drug use, lasted more than two hours before being called off. “I think that will all be subject to litigation for clarification,” Dunham said. “The document they disclosed leaves open a number of questions.”

Dunham also said the protocol redacts important information about the execution log and what is recorded in that log—or, what isn’t recorded. “It serves a meaningful purpose,” he said, adding many states use an execution log to detail when the specific drugs are administered through the IV. With that information compared to media notes on if there are visible reactions from an inmate, one could corollate if a specific drug was having adverse reactions.