Delay raises questions about Alabama lethal injection

·3 min read

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s prison commissioner did not explain what caused a lethal injection to be delayed for hours beyond saying staff members were being careful, but others said the time lapse was troubling and raises questions about what happened.

Joe Nathan James Jr. was put to death Thursday night for the 1994 murder of his ex-girlfriend Faith Hall, 26, more than three hours after the procedure originally was supposed to begin.

The execution was set for 6 p.m. CDT, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied James' request for a stay at 5:24 p.m. Reporters were taken to the grounds of Holman prison by van at about 6:30 p.m. to witness the execution, which did not get underway until about 9:04 p.m. The inmate was pronounced dead at 9:27 p.m.

A delay of that length is unusual compared to executions conducted in Alabama in recent years.

“An unexplained, three-hour delay before an execution is highly unusual and very troubling,” Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, wrote in an email Friday. Delays of that length “don’t happen unless something has gone wrong or the state is not properly prepared,” he added.

Shortly after the execution, Alabama Corrections Commissioner John Hamm said “nothing out of the ordinary” had occurred.

“I can’t overemphasize this process. We’re carrying out the ultimate punishment, the execution of an inmate. And we have protocols and we’re very deliberate in our process, and making sure everything goes according to plan. So if that takes a few minutes or a few hours, that’s what we do,” Hamm told reporters.

The Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to a message Friday seeking additional details.

The state in 2018 called off the execution of an inmate after staff had trouble finding a suitable vein for the intravenous line. The inmate was punctured at least 11 times in his limbs and groin, according to his attorney, as staff tried unsuccessfully to connect the IV line.

By comparison, the January execution of Matthew Reeves was relatively swift. News reporters left for the prison at about 8:27 p.m. to witness the procedure and Reeves was pronounced dead at 9:24 p.m.

Asked if there was difficulty in finding a vein during James' lethal injection, Hamm said: “I don’t know.” Asked whether there was any resistance from James to the preparation, Hamm said: “None that I’m aware of.”

James showed no deliberate movements at any point during the portion of the execution witnessed by media, gave no final words and had his eyes closed.

Hamm, responding to questions, denied that James was sedated beforehand.

Dunham said the episode showed the need for greater transparency.

“Alabama has botched executions in the past and lied about its failures. When a truth-impaired institution that lacks transparency provides an implausible explanation for an abnormal development, it is a huge red flag that something is wrong,” he said.

Kim Chandler, The Associated Press

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