REPORT: ‘Abhorrent practice’: Inmate subjected to three hours of pain during execution

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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.”

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29 COMMENTS

  1. I’m not inclined to feel much sympathy for his pain when he inflicted that on her family for years. By taking a life that wasn’t his to take. I’m going to go with boo hoo boo boo and good riddance.

  2. Cry me a river !! I bet her family felt some sort of satisfaction IF there was some pain involved. And maybe they should start using all that fentanyl from the border busts.

  3. I disagree. This clearly violates the constitutional provision against cruel and unusual punishment. Where is your commitment to our Constitution? The Constitution is there to protect all of us, whether some of us deserve it or not. When we deny rights to one, we deny rights to all. A bullet to the back of the head would have been far more humane, quick, effective, and cheaper.

    • I agree. Thus type of punishment makes those upholding and enforcing no better then the one receiving the sentence. The man was given the death penalty and that in itself is clear. Anything additional is over t he line

    • I don’t believe the Constitution applies to you when you’re locked up!!! Yeah like they should have freedoms ooops they don’t

    • I agree with you on this. Maybe some people don’t care about our constitution only when it comes to the parts they like and don’t want them trampled on like gun control or free speech or them telling you you need to buy an electric car. People really need to think about the constitution. Dems are trying to take everything away from us.

  4. My recommendation for execution would be to install barometric chambers in all federal prisons. To me it’s the most effective way to end a life without inflicting pain. The person dies in a euphoric state, and in the end, dead is dead. Hypoxia is effective and cheap, and there’s no need drugs or poison cocktails from a poorly trained butcher.

    That said I think people sit on death row entirely too long. I think they should be given no more than 90 working days to appeal their conviction, 24/7 access to their lawyer, and 24/7 access to a minister and a Bible. After 90 working days are past, let God sort it out. But spending 10-20 years appealing your case over and over again is an insult to the families of the victims who did not get any chance to appeals their murder.

  5. I have no sympathy for murderers. They take innocent lives and there should be consequences for their actions. They didn’t care about the persons they killed. Why should I care about them?

  6. How about a guillotine very fast or firing squad quick and simply . I like a public guillotine that way people see what is in store for them if they murder someone.🤷‍♂️

  7. I’m not convinced about the autopsy; no lidocaine for a cut down?????
    This guy caused cruel and unusual punishment to his victim-he can’t take the heat???
    I’m just not convinced that no lidocaine was used for a cut down!
    Seems like these activists have too much time on their hands

    • Yes… a very good chance that the convicted murderer was basically brain-dead when his “dramatic mutilation” took place. I suspect this account, and even the timeline was exaggerated and dramatized by these activists. Again, the price he paid for his crime was no worse than the one he inflicted on his victim. Nuf’ said.

  8. I remember one time long ago, one inmate on death roll wanted his execution to be televised. I was okay with that as long as they show all evidence pointing to him and the details of how he killed his victim! The punishment fit the crime! Maybe these idiots will think twice before going on a killing spree!

  9. I feel no empathy for a murderer! His supposed 3 hours of pain pales in comparison to the years of emotional pain of a loved one being murdered!

  10. Boo Hoo. I can just imagine how he killed and tortured his girlfriend. I’m sure he wasn’t showing her any mercy and a painless death. He got what he deserved! I feel no sympathy for him. He showed no sympathy for his victim!

  11. Bringing back public executions, which would mandate current juvenile offenders to watch, should curtain these young offenders from becoming career criminals. The people on Death Row also need to pay their debt to society within six months of being sentenced. To practice law, I feel that every potential criminal lawyer must represent five Death Row inmates’ appeal process before they are fully licensed.
    In the case of this man, James Jr, said a lawyer’s presence would have helped to stop any incompetence by whoever was performing this execution. Besides, wasn’t there supposed to be a doctor overseeing the implementation, making sure it went off without a hitch?

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