Autopsy records on ‘botched’ execution to remain secret for months

The reasons behind the “botched” execution of US Death Row inmate Joe Nathan James Jr will not be revealed to the public for at least a few months, it has been announced.

Murderer James was sentenced to death for the killing of his ex-girlfriend, Faith Hall, in 1994, and on July 28 he was given a lethal injection at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, in Escambia County, Alabama.

But he only died after correctional officials spent nearly three hours trying to start an intravenous line for the lethal drugs to be administered, in what the Death Penalty Information Centre (DPIC) have described “among the worst botches in the modern history of the US death penalty”.

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Robert Dunham, the executive director of DPIC, said: “There is no question this is a botched execution.”

He added that in the 40-year history of lethal injection executions in America, he isn’t aware of one that took as long to begin as James’.

But autopsy records that could reveal more information on how it went so wrong, will first have to be presented to a grand jury before they can be released for general viewing.

“The autopsy is presented to the grand jury just to show that the lethal injection was the cause of death and that there were no other contributing factors,” said Escambia County District Attorney Stephen Billy.

“This puts an end to all rumours and accusations which may arise in the future as to the cause of death.”

After finally successfully inserting an IV line into James, the curtains opened to the execution room at 9pm, with the death warrant being read three minutes later, with James unresponsive.

The attorney who represented him in a Jefferson County appeal, Jim Ransom III, said that his client “would have said something” if he was conscious, adding: “Joe ain’t talking… that’s not Joe at all.”

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During the 18 minutes of the execution, James failed to open his eyes or respond to any consciousness checks, but when asked if he was conscious at the beginning of the procedure, an ADOC spokesperson said: “He was not sedated.”

An official at the Escambia County Coroner’s Office has revealed that the autopsy records will not be available until after the next grand jury session at the end of October.

A private autopsy was funded by the nonprofit group Reprieve, with permission from James’ family and was detailed in an article from The Atlantic.

The private autopsy showed, according to Ransom, that James struggled against the straps holding down his arms.

He said: “There was clear evidence he struggled against the straps… the fact he wasn’t struggling when (media was present) shows something was off.”

Dunham added: “Unfortunately, one of the most important things the results tell us is that the ADOC execution team was not competent to properly carry out this execution and that ADOC prison officials cannot be trusted to tell the truth.”

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