Autopsy Reveals 'Lengthy, Painful' Alabama Execution

Victim's family didn't want Joe Nathan James Jr. executed
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 17, 2022 12:01 AM CDT
Autopsy Reveals 'Lengthy, Painful' Alabama Execution
This undated photo provided by the Alabama Department of Corrections shows inmate Joe Nathan James Jr.   (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP)

(Newser) – The family of the woman he killed did not want him executed. But Joe Nathan James Jr. was put to death last month in Alabama anyway, and now an independent autopsy reveals that his was a "lengthy and painful death," according to a reporter who witnessed the procedure. In an extensive piece for the Atlantic looking at the odd circumstances of James' execution, Elizabeth Bruenig writes that the Department of Corrections claims it took three hours to find a vein through which to deliver the lethal injection that would kill him, but that nothing out of the ordinary took place during that time, when James' counsel was not present. An anti-capital punishment activist, not convinced that claim was true, reached out to the human rights organization Reprieve US, which then paid for the private autopsy after James' next of kin, a brother, gave consent.

The piece goes on to detail puncture wounds, incisions, lacerations, and more that were observed on James' body. One expert says some of the cuts are "more consistent with trauma in my opinion, presumably incurred during a struggle that took place during the prolonged efforts to gain access to a vein," possibly leading the execution team to sedate James—which would fit with what observers saw in the moments before the lethal injection was administered. James was unresponsive, possibly unconscious, giving no last words, though two men who knew him on death row tell Bruenig he planned to say something. "Something terrible had been done to James while he was strapped to a gurney behind closed doors without so much as a lawyer present to protest his treatment or an advocate to observe it," Bruenig writes. Read the full piece here. (Read more Alabama stories.)

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