On May 3, 2023, the family of Joe Nathan James (pictured) sued the state of Alabama for the pain and suffering it caused during his three-hour-long lethal injection in 2022. It is believed to be the longest known execution in U.S. history. The suit asserts that “the execution team failed to execute Mr. James in a manner that comports with the U.S. Constitution, the Alabama Constitution, and applicable state law.”

Normally, the first part of the process is supposed to take minutes, but the team in James’ execution took hours to set the intravenous lines, repeatedly puncturing him in the process, in what the suit claims was a violation of his 8th amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment. The team of pro-bono attorneys from Arnold & Porter representing the family stated: “We’re seeking compensation for his family because that’s the available remedy, but really, our goal in filing this lawsuit and working on behalf of Mr. James’ family is to invite some transparency, to shed some light for Alabama.”

The lawsuit also alleges that the lethal injection deviated from the established execution protocol because James was already unconscious during the reading of the death warrant and unable to speak his last words.The suit states: “Mr. James was deprived of his rights to be mentally present for the reading of the death warrant, to provide last words, and to be cognizant of his punishment before the lethal drugs were administered.”

The suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, points to other failed execution attempts by Alabama, which resulted in a review of the state’s execution protocol. “Each of the individuals that Alabama failed to execute reported experiencing extreme pain from failed IV access attempts, and each of these individuals endured IV access attempts for less time than Mr. James,” the suit says. “The only reason that the public knows what happened to these individuals is because they survived efforts to execute them.”


Marco Poggio, 3½-Hour Ala. Execution Was Needlessly Cruel, Suit Says, Law360​.com, May 3, 2023; the case is The Estate of Joe Nathan James, Jr. v. Ivey et al., case num­ber 2:23-cv-00293.