BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The family of an inmate who was put to death last summer in Alabama is suing officials over what they alleged was a contentious execution that allegedly lasted hours.
On Wednesday, the family of Joe Nathan James, Jr. filed a lawsuit against Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, Attorney General Steve Marshall, Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Hamm and others over his execution. James was executed on July 28, 2022 for the murder of his former girlfriend, Faith Hall, in 1994. Originally set to be executed at 6 p.m., he was not pronounced dead until after 9 p.m., with ADOC officials offering no specific details into why James’ death took so long.
In the wake of James’ death, additional reporting on his execution raised questions about how it was carried out. The first major questions came from journalist Elizabeth Bruenig, who covered the execution for The Atlantic. In her piece, Bruenig published findings from an independent autopsy report that claimed James greatly suffered during the execution, indicating a number of puncture wounds found around his wrists and hands after technicians allegedly failed to find a vein to insert an IV.
Alabama officials have since offered little information on what went into James’ execution.
“Alabama shrouds its execution procedures in secrecy, and much of the information related to the execution of Mr. James remains in the exclusive possession of the Alabama Department of Corrections,” the lawsuit stated. “However, the facts available demonstrate that Defendants unconstitutionally subjected Mr. James to excessive pain during his prolonged execution and deprived him of the right to be conscious and speak his final words before the administration of the lethal drugs.”
In the lawsuit, attorneys for James’ family pointed to other times Alabama had botched executions in recent years, first pointing to Doyle Lee Hamm, who was scheduled to be executed in 2018. However, the execution was called off after those carrying out the execution were unable to access his veins. Attorneys argued that Hamm’s veins were compromised by cancer.
The next example the lawsuit detailed was Alan Eugene Miller, who was supposed to be executed last September, but technicians spent two hours trying to find a vein to insert an IV and failed. Last November, Kenneth Eugene Smith was also scheduled for execution, but the state ran out of time to carry it out due to being unable to set the IV lines.
Following these failed executions, Ivey announced that the state would be halting all executions until it could fully review its execution procedures. In February, the review was completed, allowing further executions to take place.
“ADOC’s attempts to remedy the flaws in the execution procedures are an implied admission that the procedures in place at the time of Mr. James’ execution were deficient, that the ‘medical personnel’ were not sufficiently trained or prepared, and that the equipment used was inadequate,” the lawsuit read.
In addition to Ivey, Marshall and Hamm, James’ family is also suing three members of ADOC’s IVE team and three members of the execution team who participated in the execution. They were not named.
“The execution of Mr. James, the previous botched execution of Mr. Hamm, and the subsequent botched executions of Mr. Miller and Mr. Smith demonstrate a clear pattern by Defendants of superadding terror, pain, and/or disgrace during executions that goes beyond a mere isolated mishap,” the lawsuit stated.
James’ family is being represented by the Washington-based lawfirm Arnold & Porter.
“Regardless of a family member’s perspective on the death penalty, the State cannot deliver justice for victim’s families or for anyone by carrying out executions in a cruel and unconstitutional manner,” Arnold & Porter partner Anand Agneshwar said in a statement. “Rather, these types of abuses undermine the State’s legitimacy.”
Read the full lawsuit here: