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Texas Commutes Death Sentence, As Execution Carried Out In Florida; Alabama Postpones

This photo combo shows death row immates, from left, Thomas Whitaker from Texas, whose sentence was commuted Thursday, Doyle Lee Hamm from Alabama, and Eric Scott Branch from Florida.
This photo combo shows death row immates, from left, Thomas Whitaker from Texas, whose sentence was commuted Thursday, Doyle Lee Hamm from Alabama, and Eric Scott Branch from Florida.

Three executions were scheduled. Two were called off.

If the death sentences in Alabama, Texas and Florida had all gone ahead on Thursday night as originally planned, it would have marked the first time in eight years that three convicted killers were executed on the same day.

However, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott granted clemency to Thomas Whitaker, 38, commuting his sentence to life in prison. And late Thursday, the execution in Alabama of Doyle Lee Hamm was postponed after last minute legal wrangling pushed late into the evening.

Only the execution of Florida inmate Eric Scott Branch, 47, who was convicted of raping and killing a college student decades ago, was carried out.

Branch thrashed on the gurney where he was strapped to receive a lethal injection, managing to scream "murderers!" three times before he was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m.

According to The Associated Press:

"Moments earlier, he had addressed the corrections officers in the room with him by saying that, instead of them carrying out the death sentence, it should have been Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, both Republicans.

'Let them come down here and do it. I've learned that you're good people and this is not what you should be doing,' Branch told the officers."

In a rare move earlier this week, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously to recommend clemency for Whitaker, whose father had kept up a relentless campaign on his behalf, despite his son's role in the 2003 murder of his wife and only other child, The Statesman reports.

Abbott agreed with the board and granted his first commutation of a death sentence as governor, after allowing 30 others to be carried out.

"The murders of Mr. Whitaker's mother and brother are reprehensible," Abbott said in a prepared statement. "The crime deserves severe punishment for the criminals who killed them. The recommendation of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, and my action on it, ensures Mr. Whitaker will never be released from prison."

In Alabama, Hamm's execution was unable to begin before a midnight deadline on his death warrant expired.

Appeals for Hamm, 61, who was convicted of killing a hotel clerk in 1987, have revolved around whether the inmate's cancer "had left him healthy enough to be executed without excessive suffering," according to AL.com.

The news website reports:

"Thursday night's execution originally was set for 6 p.m. A temporary stay from the U.S. Supreme Court was lifted at about 9 p.m., leaving the state clear to proceed. But from that point, things moved slowly. It was 10 p.m. before media observers and other witnesses were transferred to Holman Correctional Facility.

Once on site, they were kept in vehicles outside the actual death row facilities. Such waits are not unusual, but this one lasted well over an hour. Shortly before 11:30 p.m., Department of Corrections officials and guards could be seen conferring, though it was not immediately clear what was happening."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.

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