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An Alabama death row inmate was subjected to three hours of pain during his execution, the longest recorded lethal injection process in US history, according to a report by a human rights organization.
Joe Nathan James Jr., 50, was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1994 fatal shooting of his girlfriend, Faith Hall, 26, in Birmingham.
The article goes on to state the following:
Examination by Reprieve US estimates that officials at the Atmore, Alabama, correctional facility took between three and three and half hours to carry out James’ lethal injection.
During that time, the Alabama Department of Corrections (DOC) was working with James privately, leading to many questions about what went on behind closed doors, especially considering that James appeared unresponsive during the public portion of the execution. Although the DOC said “nothing out of the ordinary” happened in the course of the execution, suspicions remained.
“Subjecting a prisoner to three hours of pain and suffering is the definition of cruel and unusual punishment,” said Maya Foa, director of Reprieve US, a nonprofit civil-rights organization made up of lawyers, advocates, and investigators who defend the rights of people facing extreme abuses.
“States cannot continue to pretend that the abhorrent practice of lethal injection is in any way humane.”
In a text message to The Atlantic, Foa further explained:
“Lethal injection was developed to mask the very torture it inflicts, and when a prisoner is executed in secret, the only person who can tell the world what really happened is dead. We’ve seen time and again states suppressing or delaying autopsy results following executions that appear to have gone disastrously wrong. Autopsies help tell the story that the body leaves behind.”
In a lengthy report on the execution, The Atlantic explains that advocates for James found an independent pathologist to examine the body, and Reprieve agreed to fund the autopsy through its newly launched Forensic Justice Initiative.
Joel Zivot, an associate professor of anesthesiology and surgery at Emory University (and a lethal-injection opponent), joined independent pathologist Boris Datnow and his assistant, Jay Glass, for the examination.
From The Atlantic:
James, it appeared, had suffered a long death. The state seems to have attempted to insert IV catheters into each of his hands just above the knuckles, resulting in broad smears of violet bruising. Then it looked as though the execution team had tried again, forcing needles into each of his wrists, with the same bleeding beneath the skin and the same indigo mottling around the puncture wounds. On the inside of James’s left arm, another puncture site, another pool of deep bruising, and then, a scant distance above, a strange, jagged incision, at James’s inner elbow. The laceration met another cut at an obtuse angle. That longer, narrower slice was part of a parallel pair, which matched a fainter, shallower set of parallel cuts. Underneath the mutilated portion of James’s arm was what appeared to be yet another puncture—a noticeable crimson pinprick in the center of a radiating blue-green bruise. Other, less clear marks littered his arm as well.
Mark Edgar, a pathologist at the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, reviewed my photos from James’s autopsy and concluded in an email that all of the wounds on James’s arm happened before death, judging by the redness along the edges of the wounds. One among them—the deeper, wider cut at James’s elbow—suggested, in Edgar’s view, “that the inmate moved suddenly while the central cut was being placed, possibly in an attempt to access a vein.”
Zivot, upon examining the body, agreed that the incision carved into James’s arm was most likely made in the death chamber, in an attempt to expose a vein that execution staff could see. The medical term for the procedure is cutdown, and its aftermath dismayed Zivot. “The use of a cutdown in this situation is a stark departure from what would be done in a medical setting,” he explained in an email. “I can’t tell if local anesthetic was first infused into the skin, as slicing deep into the skin with a sharp surgical blade in an awake person without local anesthesia would be extremely painful. In a medical setting, ultrasound has virtually eliminated the need for a cutdown, and the fact that a cutdown was utilized here is further evidence that the IV team was unqualified for the task in a most dramatic way.”
The Atlantic reports that if a local anesthetic wasn’t used during a cutdown maneuver, it may “explain two other unusual features of James’s execution: the shallow lacerations lining his arm, and the fact that he was evidently unresponsive during the entire lethal-injection procedure witnessed by the media.”
According to Edgar, the “roughly parallel” incisions did “not appear to be part of any procedure,” but were “more consistent with trauma in my opinion, presumably incurred during a struggle that took place during the prolonged efforts to gain access to a vein.”
If James was struggling to the point of tearing his own flesh, the execution team may have sedated him, the report suggests.
“I also see several puncture marks not in the anatomical vicinity of a known vein,” Zivot wrote in his assessment. “It is possible that this just represents gross incompetence, or some, or one, or more of these punctures were actually intramuscular injections. An intramuscular injection in this setting would only be used to deliver a sedating medication.”
Megan McCracken, a lawyer based in Philadelphia with expertise in execution methods, told The Atlantic: “It is only because of the total lack of transparency surrounding executions in Alabama that the DOC was able to spend such a long time on failed IV access attempts. If this process had been performed openly in front of witnesses, such that anyone outside the DOC knew what was happening at the time, the attempts likely would have been stopped. It is hard to imagine that the courts would countenance this kind of harrowing procedure, but when DOCs can shield their actions and make them invisible to the public, there is no accountability.”
🚨BREAKING: Alabama’s execution of Joe Nathan James Jr took longer than any lethal injection in recorded US history, and may even be the longest execution ever using any method.
Subjecting someone to 3 hours of pain and suffering is the definition of cruel & unusual punishment🧵 pic.twitter.com/akJSRcDoPm
— Reprieve US (@ReprieveUS) August 15, 2022
“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.https://t.co/jffzZWOQ24
— Deon Devon Osborne (@indepthwithDeon) August 15, 2022
Paint peeling oped about the most recent execution in Alabama – how it was botched – and administered by officials who wanted to bar a reporter from witnessing, citing her hemline – from @SteveCooperEsq https://t.co/jGZYyYqVgO
— David Folkenflik (@davidfolkenflik) August 4, 2022
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