Corinne Bailey Rae 01. Like A Star

More than three hours after the scheduled start time, Joe Nathan James Jr. was executed for a crime he committed nearly 30 years ago. Since his death, emerging details about what occurred in the death chamber that night have renewed questions about Alabama’s capital punishment procedures. 

James, 50, was executed July 28 at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore.

Here’s what we know — and don’t know — about James’ crimes, his execution and what happened during that nearly three-hour delay.

Joe Nathan James, was sentenced to death for his role in the 1994 killing of his former girlfriend, Faith Hall.

According to the Associated Press, James forced his way into Hall’s Birmingham home on Aug. 15, 1994, accused her of infidelity and shot her. Hall died of multiple gunshot wounds.

A Jefferson County jury convicted James in 1996 and recommended the death penalty, which a judge imposed. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction, ruling a judge wrongly admitted police reports into evidence.

James was retried and sentenced to death in 1999.

Stay of execution denied despite family’s wishes

James filed three lawsuits in the months before his execution date, requesting a stay of execution. One of the lawsuits claimed that he was not appropriately given the opportunity to choose execution by nitrogen hypoxia, an untested method of execution for which Alabama is still developing protocols. The choice would have delayed his execution, since that method is not yet used in Alabama.

A federal judge denied his requests for a stay on July 14.

“I just feel like we can’t play God. We can’t take a life. And it’s not going to bring my mom back,” one of the daughters, Terryln Hall, told the AP in a recent telephone interview.

Gov. Kay Ivey also declined to intervene in James’ planned execution. 

“My staff and I have researched all the records and all the facts and there’s no reason to change the procedure or modify the outcome. The execution will go forward,” she said, according to the Associated Press.

“My staff and I have researched all the records and all the facts and there’s no reason to change the procedure or modify the outcome. The execution will go forward,” she said, according to the Associated Press.

Joe Nathan James Jr. executed July 28 after 3-hour delay

Joe Nathan James Jr. was pronounced dead at 9:27 p.m. on July 28, more than three hours after the execution had been expected to start. He was executed by lethal injection, which is Alabama’s primary method of execution

James did not open his eyes or show any deliberate movements at any point during the procedure, according to reporting from the Associated Press. He did not speak when asked if he had any final words.

Once injected with the lethal drugs, his breathing became labored, with deep pulsing breaths, and then slowed until it was not visible.

Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Hamm said immediately after the execution that he “did not know” if the execution team had issues finding a vein and that “nothing out of the ordinary” happened.

The next day, ADOC spokeswoman Kelly Betts released a statement to the media attributing delays to the IV placement.

ADOC’s execution team strictly followed the established protocol. 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,” Betts wrote in the email.

What happened to Joe James Jr. during the 3-hour delay?

Attempts to answer questions about the events that took place during the delay in James’ execution are still underway.

The ADOC said it “cannot confirm” whether James was fully conscious prior to his execution but said he was not sedated.  

The Advertiser’s request for records pertaining to the execution was denied by ADOC weeks after the execution.

In an Aug. 11 letter the Advertiser received on Monday, Rosie Shingles of ADOC’s Research and Planning Division wrote that the Advertiser was seeking “protected and confidential, security sensitive information that does not reasonably need to be viewed by the public and would be detrimental to the public’s best interest.”

Elizabeth Breunig, a writer with The Atlantic, reportedly witnessed an independent autopsyperformed on James, and described jagged incisions on James’ left arm that suggested staff tried to cut into his arm to expose a vein. Bruenig also reported multiple puncture wounds on James’ body. 

“James, it appeared, had suffered a long death,” Bruenig wrote in the Atlantic. “The state seems to have attempted to insert IV catheters into each of his hands just above the knuckles, resulting in broad smears of violet bruising.”

Another expert in the story said incisions on James’ arm could have been caused by James tearing his own arm against the gurney. 

James’ sister, Yvette Craig, said she fears what happened during the three-hour delay of her brother’s execution.

“Only the ADOC employees know what occurred during those three hours,” she wrote. “… At the very least, [ADOC Commissioner John Hamm] should have let the execution warrant expire and revisit the method of execution.”

Alabama botched prior execution

Joe Nathan James Jr.’s execution is one of several in recent history that raised concerns over the state’s lethal injection protocols. 

In 2016, Ronald Bert Smith Jr. gasped and choked for 13 of the 34 minutes of his execution. In 2017, Torrey McNabb raised his right arm about 20 minutes into the execution and rolled his head in a grimace before falling back onto the gurney.

The state attempted to execute Doyle Lee Hamm in Feb. 2018, but the execution was called off after correctional officers spent two-and-a-half hours sticking Hamm with needles, trying to find a vein for the lethal drugs. Hamm and the Department of Corrections reached a settlementthat precluded any future attempts to execute him. He died in late 2021.

What methods of execution are used in Alabama? 

Lethal injection has been the primary mode of execution in Alabama since 2002. A three-step process including midazolam, a sedative; rocuronium bromide, a paralyzer; potassium chloride, which stops the heart; is currently used.  

Alabama also allows inmates to choose electrocution as their method of execution. 

In 2018, Gov. Kay Ivey signed legislation making nitrogen hypoxia an option, but infrastructure has not yet been built to support it. 

Alabama state law requires that the state use any constitutional method to carry out executions if lethal injection, electrocution or nitrogen hypoxia are ever ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court or the Alabama Supreme Court. Besides lethal injection, the only method of execution explicitly declared constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court is death by firing squad. 

The Associated Press, Evan Mealins and Brian Lyman contributed to this report.


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