Private ‘Carnage’ Autopsy Papers Suffered by Alabama Death Row Prisoner Joe Nathan James in History’s Longest, Botched Execution by Lethal Injection

A private autopsy of Alabama sentenced to death Joe Nathan James, Jr. suggests unskilled prison staff subjected him to a torturous execution process lasting several hours in a botched execution that experts say was the longest since the advent of lethal injection forty years ago .

The autopsy results, described by journalist Elizabeth Bruenig in an August 15, 2022 briefing in Atlantic, document multiple failed attempts to establish an intravenous line of execution, puncture wounds in the muscles of Mr. James’ arm that appear unrelated to the efforts to insert the IV, multiple unexplained incisions and bleeding and bruising around Mr James’ wrists where he was tied to the stretcher. Report denies ADOC Commissioner John Hamm’s statement that ‘nothing out of the ordinary’ happened in the three-hour period between the scheduled start of James’ execution at 6:00 p.m. on July 28, 2022 and the time the curtain opened. the execution chamber was opened at 9:02 p.m. to reveal a motionless and unresponsive James on the execution stretcher.

The autopsy, which was performed on August 2, 2022, several days after the official autopsy, was funded by human rights organization Reprieve US on behalf of James’ family. Bruenig, who witnessed the private autopsy, as well as renowned Emory University anesthetist Joel Zivot, wrote that “James’ hands and wrists had been pierced with needles, wherever one can bend or flex” during a “long and painful death”. “carnage” on his body, she said, indicating that “[s]something terrible had been done to James while he was tied to a stretcher behind closed doors without even a lawyer present to protest his treatment or a lawyer to observe him.

Reprieve executive director Maya Foa estimated the execution took between three and three and a half hours from the time the execution team first attempted to insert the intravenous execution line. . Reprieve’s examination of 275 botched executions in the United States since 1890 found it to be the longest botched execution on record.

The executive director of the Death Penalty Information Centre, Robert Dunham, said in a statement: “There is no doubt that this is another failed execution, and it is one of worst failures in the modern history of the death penalty in the United States”. It is the longest botched execution by lethal injection in the 40-year history of this method of execution, followed by Alabama’s 2.5-hour failure to establish a line of execution during the aborted execution of Doyle Ray Hamm in February 2018.

Physical markers of a sloppy execution

For the medical professionals who examined the body, the damage to James’ arm – puncture wounds, bruising, a deep incision and shallow lacerations – suggests that James lived through a few hours of torture before he died.

The private autopsy was conducted by independent pathologist Boris Datnow and assisted by Jay Glass and Dr Zivot. Doctors found puncture wounds, complete with bruising, in James’ arms. Puncture wounds and bruises around the knuckles and wrists, they say, suggest members of the execution team tried and failed to insert IV lines in those places. They also found puncture wounds in James’ musculature, “not in the anatomical vicinity of any known vein,” Zivot wrote.

“It’s possible that this just represents gross incompetence, or that some, or one or more of these punctures are actually intramuscular injections,” Zivot explained. On the night of the execution, the Hamm Commission specifically denied that the execution crew had sedated James, a representation later repeated to the media by an ADOC spokesperson. However, Zivot said, “An intramuscular injection in this setting would only be used to deliver sedative medication.”

Inside James’ left arm, examiners found a jagged incision, which Zivot said was likely due to a “cut” – a medical procedure in which a deep cut is made to expose a vein. “I can’t tell if a local anesthetic was infused into the skin first, because cutting the skin deeply with a sharp surgical blade in an awake person without local anesthesia would be extremely painful,” Zivot explained.

“In a medical setting, ultrasound has virtually eliminated the need for reduction,” Zivot said, “and the fact that reduction was used here is further evidence that the IV team was unqualified. for the task in the most dramatic way.”

Mayo Clinic pathologist Mark Edgar also reviewed autopsy photographs provided by Atlantic. Edgar said he believed a jagged incision on James’ arm was likely caused by a sudden movement of the arm as the execution team attempted to cut it. Edgar said the shallow lacerations in James’ arms were probably not part of the procedure, but were more likely to be sustained “during a struggle that took place during prolonged efforts to access a vein “.

“Subjecting a prisoner to three hours of pain and suffering is the definition of cruel and unusual punishment,” Foa said. “States cannot continue to pretend that the heinous practice of lethal injection is in any way humane.”

ADOC’s refusal to reveal the truth about the execution

ADOC officials have repeatedly provided uninformative or evasive responses to media questions about James’ botched execution. After initially saying the three-hour delay involved “nothing out of the ordinary”, ADOC eventually admitted they had difficulty getting an IV line installed, but said they could not confirm whether James was “fully conscious” when the execution curtain opened. Prison officials said James was not sedated before the execution curtain opened. The ADOC has continually refused to explain what happened to James in the three hours before media witnesses were admitted to witness the execution.

The execution was scheduled for 6 p.m. local time. Media witnesses were prevented from entering the execution chambers by prison officials, who subjected two veteran journalists who had covered numerous uneventful executions in the past to dress checks. After determining that Associated Press reporter Kim Chandler’s clothing met the dress code, prison officials ruled that a skirt that reporter Ivana Hrynkiw had worn to witness several previous executions was too short to be admitted to prison. After Hrynkiw changed clothes to comply with this edict, officials further delayed media entry into the prison by telling Hrynkiw that she could not wear open-toed shoes in the facility.

Media witnesses reported that they finally left the media room in the prison transport van at 6:33 p.m. for the two-mile trip to the execution chamber at Holman Correctional Facility. They were then left in the transport van for over two hours before being allowed into the execution viewing room at 8:57 p.m. 02 a.m., several reporters noted that James’s eyes were closed. and that he lay motionless and unresponsive on the stretcher. He was left unanswered when the death warrant was read to him at 9:03 a.m. and asked if he had any last words to offer. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall cleared the administration of the drug at 9:04 p.m. Reporters reported that “James blinked and his eyes blinked briefly” after the injection of the drug. dope. He was pronounced dead at 9:27 p.m.

Jim Ranson, James’ former defense attorney, said ADOC’s assertion that James was not sedated was a “red flag”. According to Ranson, Atlantic reported, it “didn’t ring true” that James would have lain on the stretcher motionless and mute. James would have fought to the end against the execution, Ranson said.

“Joe always had something to say,” Ranson said. “Joe would have said no.”

“First, [it was] a torturous closed-door procedure and then a theatrical performance for witnesses,” Foa said.

After execution, the Advertiser Montgomery submitted a public records request for documents related to James’ execution and what happened during the three-hour delay. On August 11, 2022, ADOC denied this request. In a letter received by the Advertiser on August 15, an official with ADOC’s Research and Planning Division claimed that the newspaper was looking for “protected and confidential, security-sensitive information that does not reasonably need to be seen by the public and would be detrimental to the greater public interest”.

“All the media who witnessed the execution observed that Mr. James was already unresponsive when the curtain opened,” Dunham said. “The autopsy results tell us a lot – but not enough – about what ADOC was doing during the three-hour ‘delay.’ Unfortunately, one of the most important things the results tell us is that the ADOC execution team was not competent to carry out this execution and that ADOC prison officials cannot be trusted to tell the truth.