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According to a recent analysis from an anti-death penalty organization, the July 28 Alabama execution of Joe Nathan James Jr, 50, may have taken longer than any other execution in US history.

Alabama Department of Corrections officials took over three hours to find a vein in which to inject lethal drugs into James Jr, with puncture marks all over his arms and wrists, according to an autopsy.

A reporter from the Atlantic who viewed the deceased body described it as “someone whose hands and wrists had been burst by needles, in every place one can bend or flex.”

Reporters in the viewing room on July 28 waited hours to witness the execution that Alabama corrections officials described as “nothing out of the ordinary.”

Yet, according to Reprieve US, which has analyzed executions dating back to 1890, no other execution took three hours to complete.

Alabama execution of Joe Nathan James Jr: ‘three hours of pain’
Alabama took three hours to find a vein in which to execute Joe Nathan James Jr (Alabama Corrections)

Family of victim urged Gov. not to execute Joe Nathan James Jr.

In 1999, Alabama sentenced James Jr to death for the 1994 killing of Faith Hall, a mother of two who James Jr previously dated. After she denied his affections, he found her at her friend’s apartment and shot her three times. He’s since found Islam while incarcerated.

Yet, in the months leading up to the scheduled execution, Faith Hall’s brother Helvetius and her two daughters, Terrlyn and Toni, told Governor Kay Ivey they forgave James Jr and had no desire to see him killed. Despite relatives of the victim explicitly stating their wishes, the governor moved forward with the execution anyway.

“We hoped the state wouldn’t take a life simply because a life was taken and we have forgiven Mr. Joe Nathan James Jr. for his atrocities toward our family. … We pray that God allows us to find healing after today and that one day our criminal justice system will listen to the cries of families like ours even if it goes against what the state wishes,” the family’s

statement read, per NPR.

Yet, Gov. Ivey defended her decision to execute James Jr as a means to “fulfill our responsibility to the law, to public safety and to justice.”

Advocates condemn Alabama execution

According to media witnesses, the execution began around 9 p.m. CDT after a three hour delay. When asked for his last words, James Jr remained silent, never fully opening his eyes aside from brief fluttering, something that is unusual among executions. 

“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, according to the Guardian. “States cannot continue to pretend that the abhorrent practice of lethal injection is in any way humane.”

Ahead of the state-sanctioned murder, female journalists in attendance reported being forced to change out of a skirt that corrections officers deemed inappropriate attire for an execution, and another female journalist was subjected to a full-body inspection.

Stephen Cooper, a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015, blasted the botched execution in an op-ed in the Montgomery Advertiser.

He said the execution of James Jr involved fascism, racism, sexism and torture.

“Investigations should be launched immediately, and not just into the sexist jackasses ogling the outfits of female reporters, but, also, into why Alabama keeps torturing to death poor, disproportionately Black men…” Cooper wrote.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the sister of Joe James Jr. has called for an investigation into the state-sanctioned murder.

Family members of condemned Alabama inmate Nathaniel Woods speak to reporters outside Holman Correctional Facility ahead of his scheduled execution on Thursday, March 5, 2020 in Atmore, Alabama. His sister, Pamela Woods, holds a page from the trial transcript that she shows that her brother was surrendering when three police officers were shot by another man in 2004. Woods was convicted of capital murder as an accomplice in the shootings. A jury recommended the death penalty by a 10-2 vote. (AP Photo/Kimberly Chandler)

Autopsy shows painful scene

Meanwhile, Atlantic reporter Elizabeth Bruenig, who viewed the autopsied body of Joe James Jr, described a morbid scene.

Per the Atlantic:

 “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.”

Bruenig also described puncture wounds on the inside of James’s left arm with deep bruising, along with a “strange” jagged incision at his inner elbow. Bruenig said she’s witnessed two executions in which the detainees were alert and responsive. She described what appeared to be inexperienced medical staff who allegedly treated James Jr’s body like a twisted game of operation, poking and prodding until they finally found a vein they could use.

Ultimately, the world will never know the full depths of suffering that James Jr endured as the Alabama Dept. of Corrections remains tight lipped about what really took place.

“We’re carrying out the ultimate punishment, the execution of an inmate. And we have protocols and we’re very deliberate in our process, and making sure everything goes according to plan. So if that takes a few minutes or a few hours, that’s what we do,” John Hamm, the corrections department commissioner told journalists.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey gives the State of the State Address to a joint session of the Alabama Legislature on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, in the old house chamber of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

Alabama, Oklahoma competing for most botched executions?

The vague response from Alabama corrections officials is reminiscent of words uttered by Oklahoma’s outgoing DOC director Scott Crow.

Following the botched execution of John Grant, another Black man, in October 2021, an Associated Press journalist described what he witnessed.

“John Grant convulsed two dozen times as midazolam was administered. Then vomited. Then convulsed more. He was then declared unconscious. Then the second round of drugs were administered and he was declared dead at 4:21pm,” AP’s Sean Murphy said.

“When asked whether Grant’s execution was humane, Crow said “inmate Grant’s regurgitation was not pleasant to watch but I do not believe it was inhumane.” Crow also denied that he convulsed two dozen times, saying he believes it was less than 10.”

Oklahoma has since scheduled 25 new executions over the next two years, with James Coddington scheduled to for execution on August 25, despite a recommendation for clemency from the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.

“Lethal injection was developed to mask the very torture it inflicts,” Reprieve US director Maya Foa told the Atlantic over text message regarding the Alabama execution, “and when a prisoner is executed in secret, the only person who can tell the world what really happened is dead.”

Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has...

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