An inmate from Alabama, Joe Nathan James Jr, who was convicted for murdering his former girlfriend in 1994 and executed last month, suffered a prolonged death during his capital punishment, marking a record delay in lethal injection.
Authorities at Alabama’s prison system said that the procedure to execute James took longer because the execution team handling his punishment took time to establish an intravenous access to administer multidrug cocktails.
The execution team allegedly attempted to insert IV catheters into both his hands, right above the knuckles, which caused his skin to turn violet due to bruising, reported The Atlantic.
James did not open his eyes or make any deliberate movements during the three-hour-long procedure. On being asked for his last words by the warden, the 50-year-old did not speak. He did not even refuse to offer a final statement, and remained unresponsive from the start of the procedure to the end.
Officials in the room read out his death warrant at 9.03pm on 28 July, three hours after it was originally scheduled for, raising suspicions on why the team took so long to administer lethal execution.
The lethal drugs entered James’s body at 9.04pm and his breathing became laboured with deep pulsing breaths. He was declared dead at 9.27pm after his breathing diminished completely.
According to the autopsy, the impact of multiple needle pricking was visible on the man’s left arm and inner elbow.
The marks and wounds on James’s arm occurred before death based on the redness along the edges of the wounds, said Florida-based pathologist Mark Edgar, who works at the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. His observation was based on photos from James’s autopsy.
The independent autopsy was carried out several days after James was declared dead.
Officials from Alabama’s prison system said the execution was delayed because of the time taken to establish an intravenous line to the inmate.
“The protocol states that if the veins are such that intravenous access cannot be provided, the team will perform a central line procedure. Fortunately, this was not necessary and with adequate time, intravenous access was established,” the Alabama Department of Corrections said.
But they did not specify the amount of time the execution team took to establish the intravenous line or how many attempts were made.
Attorneys representing James were not present during the execution to possibly lodge a protest against the hours-long procedure. It is likely that he was sedated by the authorities to make the search for the vein easier, the report added.
James and Smith had dated from the early 1990s and when they broke up, he stalked and harassed her, showed up at her home uninvited and threatened to kill her and her ex-husband, according to legal documents.
Then, on the evening of 15 August 1994, he followed her car to a friend’s home where he shot her three times. In the aftermath, James went on the run but was arrested in California and returned to Alabama.
Two years on from her brutal murder, James was convicted of capital murder and was sentenced to death.
James’s execution was carried out despite a plea from the victim’s family for state pardon. In late July, Alabama governor Kay Ivey had rejected the plea.
Smith’s family released a statement following his execution calling it a “tragic day” which had caused them to “relive the hurt” they have suffered since her murder.
Multiple family members of the victim had spoken out to say they wanted James’ execution to be halted and for his sentence to be reduced to life in prison without the possibility of parole instead.