Alabama’s execution of Joe Nathan James Jr last month may have taken longer than any other lethal injection in recorded American history, and no death penalty ever administered in the US may have taken quite as long, according to an analysis by a human rights organization.
An examination by Reprieve US of James’s execution estimates that it took Alabama officials between three and three and a half hours to carry out the lethal injection, a duration that the organization argues violates constitutional protections against inhumane punishments.
“Subjecting a prisoner to three hours of pain and suffering is the definition of cruel and unusual punishment,” the director of Reprieve US, Maya Foa, said in a statement on Sunday. “States cannot continue to pretend that the abhorrent practice of lethal injection is in any way humane.”
The daughters of Hall wanted James to spend the rest of his life imprisoned but pleaded for him not to be executed. Nonetheless, Alabama officials pumped lethal injection drugs into James the night of 28 July as his punishment for Hall’s murder.
Citing evidence from James’s autopsy as well as sources quoted in a recent report from the Atlantic on his death, Reprieve US maintains that it is clear the lethal injection began long before the media witnesses were admitted into the execution chamber. The organization said James’s execution team unsuccessfully tried for three hours or more to insert an IV line before attempting a cut-down procedure that may have caused the condemned man to struggle, leaving him with injuries on his hands and wrists.
Officials then reportedly sedated James, which may have explained why he never opened his eyes or moved while on a gurney after the media witnesses were admitted into the execution chamber. He also never spoke when asked if he had any last words, Reprieve US’s analysis noted.
Foa, the Reprieve US director, argued that James essentially underwent two executions, saying: “First, [it was] a torturous procedure behind closed doors, then a theatrical performance for witnesses.”
The organization said it has reviewed more than 275 botched executions in the US – involving all methods – since 1890.
For the human rights group, the entire sequence of events called to mind Alabama’s botched 2018 execution of convicted murderer Doyle Lee Hamm. Officials spent two and a half hours puncturing Hamm’s legs and groin in an unsuccessful attempt to begin pumping lethal drugs into him before calling off the execution as he bled on a gurney.
James’s case demonstrates that Alabama officials have not learned any lessons from Hamm’s case.
“Instead of learning the lessons from Alabama’s failed attempt to execute Doyle Lee Hamm, Alabama officials appear to be using it as a template,” Foa said. Referring to James’s execution, she added: “This is the latest example of the extreme lengths states will go to hide the brutal reality of lethal injection because they know the public would oppose it if they found out what was really going on.”
Read the full story in The Guardian US.