Trump-style fascism, despicable racism, and frat-boy-style sexism — specifically, appropriate skirt-length and the appropriateness of open-toe high heels for journalists at executions — these were just a few of the unsavory isms and schisms that swirled, sardonically, around the soulless lethal injection of Joe Nathan James Jr. 

Following a multi-hour delay — shielded in surreptitious secrecy — including a wardrobe change into fisherman’s waders and sneakers for one female reporter, and, that putrid, behind-closed-doors process whereby executioners pricked, prodded, and poked James, seeking intravenous access, finally, Alabama’s filthy toxins-of-death began their flow.

James was then observed by Lee Hedgepeth, a digital investigative reporter for CBS 42, to make very subtle movements — movements James’s body should not have been able to make if James was, in fact, completely “insensate” (completely lacking of any physical sensation) — like: his “eyelids fluttered,” his “body, including his lips and eyes made significant movement after which James’ breathing appeared to be labored,” and, his “eyes opened slightly.”

When Alabama executed Christopher Brooks, in February 2016, and the very same thing occurred, I wrote “Alabama’s last execution may have burned a man alive”; the same is true now: “[t]he fact that Mr. [James’s] eye opened [and that he made the other movements, albeit subtle, that Hedgepeth observed,] indicates [James] was feeling sensation contemporaneous with, or prior to, injection of the paralytic.”

Accordingly, James “was sensate at the time he was executed by injection of potassium chloride,” a drug that “disrupts the normal electrical activity of the heart and induces cardiac arrest by stopping the heart from pumping blood. Potassium chloride traveling in the blood stream from the site of injection towards the heart causes an extreme burning sensation as it moves through the body destroying the internal organs.” (A 2016 report by the National Institutes of Health opined that if a condemned prisoner is not properly anesthetized, “potassium chloride will cause excruciating pain.”)

After Alabama’s botched execution of Brooks was swiftly followed by the also-patently botched executions of Ronald Bert Smith, in December 2016 (heaving, coughing, clenching his fists, moving his lips, and opening his left eye), and, Torrey McNabb in October 2017 (labored breathing, moving his body, raising his right arm and grimacing, and, lifting his head before falling back on the gurney), I insisted in this newspaper: “someday the people of Alabama will decide that the cost of botched and torturous executions—including their prison chief’s indefensible defense of them — is just too damaging to their moral fabric; too devastating to the integrity of its criminal justice system. Let us pray this day comes soon.” (After Doyle Hamm’s botched attempted-execution, in February 2018, I soberly, exhaustedly, and angrily wrote: “Newsflash: Alabama has been torturing poor people for a long time.”)

Elsewhere, describing the “ducking and dodging of death penalty accountability in Alabama,” I’ve implored that “complete and unfettered public disclosure of Alabama’s lethal injection protocol to the press and public is the best medicine for the state’s chronic dissembling-and-disinformation disease afflicting its increasingly disturbing, and dysfunctional administration of the death penalty.”       

In world-famous Alabama novelist Harper Lee’s relatively recently released book, “Go Set a Watchman” — written before her universally acclaimed “To Kill a Mockingbird” — Atticus Finch’s brother says to Scout: “As sure as time, history is repeating itself, and as sure as man is man, history is the last place he’ll look for his lessons.” As it concerns the death penalty, it doesn’t always need to be this way for Alabamians.

When correctional officials continually offer opaque, bumbling excuses, excuses that don’t add up to a three-hour delay in executing a man, Alabamians should take their cue from great thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson, who advised: “The world is his who can see through its pretension. What deafness, what stone-blind custom, what overgrown error you behold is there only by sufferance—by your sufferance. See it to be a lie, and you have already dealt it a mortal blow.”

Conscientious, justice-loving politicians, faith leaders, and common citizens of Alabama — in whose name these state-sanctioned atrocities are being committed — have to be willing to rock the boat; they have to have the courage to confront and capsize their Department of Corrections’ perennially creaky, crusty — and particularly during this execution, crass — boat. Investigations should be launched immediately, and not just into the sexist jackasses ogling the outfits of female reporters, but, also, into why Alabama keeps torturing to death poor, disproportionately Black men, most of whom were condemned — as famed death penalty attorney Stephen Bright long ago observed — because they had the worst lawyer, not because they committed the worst crime.

Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter at @SteveCooperEsq


thur aug 4 2022 REmbr… G is, as G can only BE. GOOD

If I didn’t define myself, I’d be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive. audre lorde

amen. so BE it. laff THRU it…yes. in Time.