A troubling series of death row scandals has cast doubt on the role of executions in the US justice system amid concerns about its ability to safely and humanely administer lethal injections.
In August, convicted murderer Joe Nathan James endured the longest execution in history when he was slowly put to death during a three-hour agonizing ordeal.
And nearly a year later, a bombshell lawsuit was filed on May 3 indicting Alabama officials for the “cruel and unusual punishment” imposed on James — in what is just the latest chapter in a legal battle that has raged for years in several Southern states is underway. .
The case has already made headlines this year due to Texas’s push for the execution of several of its prisoners, five of whom have joined a lawsuit against the use of the drugs that would eventually be used to kill them.
Texas has faced a legal challenge over its use of expired lethal injection drugs. Pictured: The state’s execution chamber in Huntsville, where several inmates were murdered this year
Wesley Ruiz, who was part of a trial over the use of the expired drugs, had been on death row for nearly 16 years before being executed in February.
James’ botched execution in August marked the beginning of a tumultuous time for the death row system, as he earned the unenviable title of the longest recorded lethal injection trial in US history.
The Alabama killer was found guilty and sentenced to death for the fatal 1994 shooting of his girlfriend, Faith Hall.
But his nearly 20-year stay behind bars ended in agony when officials tried in vain for more than three hours to insert an IV line. The botched procedure reportedly led to an attempted cut-down procedure, which would have left James struggling and left him with injuries to his hands and wrists.
The harrowing incident was condemned in a lawsuit filed Wednesday by James’ family, which claims the Alabama Department of Corrections is “secretly shrouding its execution protocol and refusing to disclose critical details about Mr. James’s execution.”
In a statement to DailyMail.com, Maya Foa, executive director of human rights organization Reprieve US, said: “After enduring the unimaginable pain of a family member who was subjected to the longest lethal injection in US history, the James family is still never received an injection. basic answers or accountability.’
She added that the lawsuit arising from his death is “vital” because it “challenges Alabama’s flagrant violations of the U.S. Constitution at a time when the state has announced plans to send more people to the execution chamber.” .
Foa claimed that the state “refuses to disclose what happened during this and other catastrophically failed execution attempts.”
The execution of ‘Joe James’ will go down in history as an illustration of the human consequences of the failed method of lethal injection. Alabama cannot continue to use the facade of medicine to pretend that lethal injection is in any way humane.”
Reprieve added that the execution bore a striking resemblance to Doyle Lee Hamm’s 2018 ordeal, when his death was postponed after Alabama prison officials again struggled to insert an IV line. The painful procedure left Hamm with twelve stab wounds, including six in his groin and others that pierced his bladder and penetrated his femoral artery.
Since then, several other Alabama death row inmates have survived their executions for the same reason, including Alan Miller in October and Kenneth Smith in November.
“Executing states recognize that if people knew what really happens in the death chamber, support for the death penalty would fall to an unsustainable level,” the organization told DailyMail.com.
“So states are doing everything they can to hide the horrific reality of the death penalty. This is most apparent when they pull the curtain on executions gone wrong or prevent witnesses from seeing the desperate struggle to insert IV lines, but it’s actually much more pervasive and far-reaching than that.
“The execution of Joe James and other recent executions show how states like Alabama have effectively executed people twice – first, the closed-door torture procedure, and second, execution in front of witnesses.”
Joe Nathan James, pictured, suffered the longest execution in US history in August
Alabama officials are not alone in their growing execution problems, and Texas death row practices are also fueling research into the practice’s prevalence.
Of the 10 death row inmates executed so far in 2023, five have been executed in Texas – all of whom were murdered with the lethal injection drug pentobarbital.
Fueled by a lack of pharmacies willing to produce the execution drug, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice decided to extend the expiration date of their stock.
Prison officers have been using the drugs since 2012 and deny that long-term use is more painful, but allegations are circulating about their safety – while a trail of those who fight their use are still executed with the drugs anyway.
Six death row inmates in Texas made headlines after they filed suit last year, alleging that using the drugs violated the U.S. Constitution’s statutes against cruel and unusual punishment.
But as the lawsuit moved through the courts, inmates who signed the case, including convicted murderers Wesley Ruiz, John Balentine, Gary Green, Arthur Brown Jr. and Robert Fratta, executed by the same authority they are suing.
None of the inmates got a last meal after Texas banned the traditional rite in 2011.
Their executions were finally granted due to an appeals court decision in January that barred lower courts from issuing orders in the case.