How was Faith Hall's killer Joe Nathan James Jr executed? Second autopsy reveals shocking results

How was Faith Hall's killer Joe Nathan James Jr executed? Second autopsy reveals shocking results
Joe Nathan James Jr was sentenced to death in 1999 for Faith Hall's murder (Alabama Department of Corrections and photo contributed by Toni Melton)

Warning: Graphic content, readers’ discretion advised.

BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA: Joe Nathan James Jr was executed in July for a crime he committed nearly 30 years ago. He was sentenced to death in 1999 after being convicted of capital murder during a burglary in the killing of his ex-girlfriend, Faith Hall, in Birmingham in 1994. Hall's family, however, did not support the death penalty. Her daughters claimed that they would not attend, as they believed the culprit should receive a life sentence instead.

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On July 28 at 9.27 pm, James Jr was executed via lethal injection in an Alabama prison. Following the execution, an independent autopsy was conducted in August. However, another autopsy was later conducted by Dr Boris Datnow, a pathologist in Birmingham, Alabama with more than 20 years of experience. The results from the two autopsies are shockingly different.

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First vs second autopsy results

The state autopsy was done prior to the independent one, but those results have not been made public. The independent autopsy, which was the second one, revealed that James suffered torturous treatment for hours before his death, as per WSWS. According to Reprieve US, the organization that commissioned and funded the autopsy, James suffered for at least three to three and a half hours before he died. Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), however, maintained that there was “nothing out of the ordinary” about the execution. Officials with ADOC didn't specify the cause for the delay other than that there was difficulty finding an IV line for the lethal injection. The department also refused to release records and said the autopsy won’t be available for months and they first have to be presented to a grand jury.

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Escambia County District Attorney Stephen Billy said, as quoted by AL, "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. This puts an end to all rumors and accusations which may arise in the future as to the cause of death.” Dr Joel Zivot, an Atlanta-based physician and associate professor at Emory University who was present to observe the autopsy, believed that Alabama might have "sliced James’ arm open in his final hours, trying to find a vein for the fatal three-drug cocktail to run through. The invasive procedure is known as a cutdown." However, Datnow said in the first autopsy that the procedure did not happen. “If there’s a cutdown, it’s pretty damn obvious. Of course, we would have seen that. Any first-year resident would have seen that," said the doctor.

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What is a Venous Cutdown Procedure?

According to MedicineNet, it is an emergency procedure where a physician surgically cuts the vein and inserts a cannula into the vein under direct vision. This is done when there is difficulty in locating a vein large enough for a needle or if there are unsuccessful peripheral IV (Intravenous lines) attempts.

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How will the findings impact other death row inmate pleas?

Lethal injection has been the primary mode of execution in Alabama since 2002. But James' execution, which many advocates have called “botched” due to the delay in beginning the procedure, has raised concerns. The reports of what happened to James are already being stated in court filings in multiple other death penalty cases.

The lawyers of Kenneth Eugene Smith, who is set to die at William C Holman Correctional Facility on November 17 by lethal injection, argued that the inmate would have elected to die by nitrogen hypoxia if he “had notice and (he had) been informed” of the choice. Smith’s lawsuit stated, “ADOC subjected Mr James to a tortuous execution process that went on for more than three hours...Absent a change in ADOC’s lethal injection process after independent review, permitting ADOC to execute (Smith) using its lethal injection process would subject him to an intolerable risk of torture, cruelty, or substantial pain like that to which Mr James was subjected.” Smith, now 57, will be executed for the murder-for-hire killing of Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett, a pastor’s wife who was killed inside her north Alabama home in March 1988, as per AL. 

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