Death Row sign

Alabama prisoner subjected to ‘three hours of pain’ in possible longest recorded execution in US

In the US, the death penalty is a controversial practice. Many people think that it is the only punishment deserved for certain heinous crimes. Others believe it makes us no better than the crimes committed by those sentenced to death. That being said, 27 states still allow the death penalty as a punishment. Recently, one Alabama death-row inmate was reportedly subjected to three hours of pain prior to his lethal injection last month. There has been dispute over the Alabama Department of Correction’s methods of his execution.

The execution of Joe Nathan James

Joe Nathan James Jr, 50, was pronounced dead on July 28th, 2022. The scheduled execution was scheduled for 6 pm, but James Jr. was pronounced dead at 9:27 pm. There has been speculation as to why his lethal injection was delayed. Many people are not happy with the length of time it took for his execution to carry out. John Hamm, the corrections officer in charge, affirmed in a statement that “nothing out of the ordinary” had caused the delay.

Joe Nathan James Jr's execution lasted three hours
Joe Nathan James Jr Image credit: Alabama Department of Corrections

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James Jr’s execution was the longest recorded death sentence. It was carried out over a period of three hours, which many have said is inhumane. The original statement made by John Hamm was amended. He later said the executioners had difficulties getting the intravenous lines to James Jr established. However, in an independent autopsy, James Jr’s wrists had been punctured multiple times with what looked like needles. Pathologist Mark Edgar said, “the IV team was unqualified for the task in a most dramatic way.

The autopsy of James Jr. was funded by a non-profit human rights organization. They said: “Alabama’s execution of Joe Nathan James Jr. took longer than any lethal injection in recorded US history, and may even be the longest execution ever using any method.”

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Behind closed doors

So, what happened between 6 and 9 pm on July 28th? Similarly, why was the lethal injection only given three hours after it was scheduled? Allegedly, the executioners had struggled for three hours to find the right intravenous line to connect to the IV. Hamm said: “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,” the Alabama Department of Corrections said in a statement at the time.

It is unclear whether or not James Jr was sedated before the media witnesses were allowed in. Firstly, James Jr kept his eyes closed and did not utter a single word. Moreover, he did not give his last words. James Jr’s lawyer said this was very out of character for him. “That sent up red flags,” said James’s lawyer. “It didn’t ring true … Joe always had something to say,” he said. He added that James Jr would have “wanted to fight ’em to the very last minute.”

When asked about what happened before the media was allowed into the execution room, Hamm stated: “I can’t overemphasize this process. In short, we’re carrying out the ultimate punishment, the execution of an inmate. Additionally, 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.”


The crimes of James Jr.

Joe Nathan James Jr was sentenced to death for the 1994 murder of a 26-year-old, Faith Hall. Joe Nathan James’ execution went against the wishes of Faith’s family. They pleaded for his life to be spared. In an interview with The Atlantic, Faith’s brother, Helvetius described how they were not contacted by any officials relating to the execution of James Jr. Helvetius said: “Nobody called us, nobody reached out to us, nobody — nobody — got in touch with us.” He added, “This is not what [Faith Hall] would have wanted, and we deserve an apology for that.”

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  1. Alabama subjected prisoner to ‘three hours of pain’ during execution – report.The Guardian. Ramon Antonio Vargas. August 15, 2022.
  2. Alabama put inmate through ‘3 hours of pain and suffering’ in ‘longest execution ever’.NY Post. Lee Brown. August 16, 2022
  3. Dead to Rights.The Atlantic. Elizabeth Bruening. August 14, 2022.
Jade Small
Freelance Writer
Jade is a freelance writer and content creator from South Africa with over 7 years experience writing and creating. She's also a proud single mom to a super 13 year old boy.