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Alabama Prisoner’s Family Sues Over Allegedly Botched Execution

by Chuck Sharman

On May 3, 2023, the family of Joe Nathan James Jr., an Alabama prisoner executed in July 2022, sued Gov. Kay Ivey (R) and other state officials, claiming he suffered excessive pain and was unconscious too long before his death, thwarting his intent to apologize to his family, the victim’s family, and recite the Muslim profession of faith, the shahada, as his final words.

“Alabama must own up to its wrongs,” said Hakim James, who is representing his brother’s estate.

During the 18-minute execution, James, 50, did not open his eyes or respond to standard consciousness checks by guards. The suit alleges that was likely because he had already been given midazolam a heavy sedative that is part of the state’s three-drug execution protocol, during an extended attempt to set up intravenous (IV) lines in his arms that was not completed more than three hours past the scheduled execution time.

An autopsy report released by the state Department of Forensic Sciences found no evidence of a “cutdown procedure” to insert the IV lines, though it did not count the puncture wounds on James’ arms. The lawsuit notes that a privately arranged autopsy performed after the execution found signs of such physical abuse. It also called James’ execution the longest recorded lethal injection in American history and highlighted Alabama’s history of botched execution protocol and inadequately trained staff.

Filed in federal court for the Middle District of Alabama, the suit claims James’ suffering amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment, laying the blame on Ivey, Attorney General Steve Marshall (R), state Department of Corrections (DOC) Commissioner John Hamm, William C. Holman Correctional Facility Warden Terry Raybon, and six unnamed executioners.

The lawsuit further alleges that Ivey was contacted during the IV insertion process, but she insisted on proceeding despite indications James had sustained injuries. It also claims that Warden Raybon failed to closely observe the execution process and disregarded signs of James’ distress. Attorney General Marshall is accused of being aware of problems placing the IV line but failing to intervene.

James was executed for murdering ex-girlfriend Faith Hall in 1994. The new lawsuit, his brother insisted, “is not about attacking the death penalty or seeking pity for my brother.” Rather he called it “simply a demand that Alabama officials recognize the humanity of the people the State executes.” He is represented by attorneys with Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP in New York City and Washington, DC. See: James v. Ivey, USDC (M.D.Ala.), Case No. 2:23-cv-00293.

The state paused executions in November 2022, after James’ murder stretched so long and executioners then failed to kill the next two condemned men, Kenneth Eugene Smith and Alan Eugene Miller. [See: PLN, Mar. 2023, p.50.] But in February 2023, a review ordered by Ivey ended with no public report except an announcement that DOC had “ordered and obtained new equipment” to resume executions. The next was then scheduled for July 20, 2023, when Alabama will kill James Barber, 64, for fatally beating his ex-girlfriend’s mother, Dorothy Epps, 75, in 2001.

Additional source: Law360