The State of Alabama killed James Barber last Friday, its first execution since Gov. Kay Ivey called for a temporary halt in November after the state had botched three executions in a row. All three resulted from corrections officials’ inability to insert IV lines for the lethal drugs.
On July 28, the execution team tried for three hours to insert IV lines into Joe Nathan James, Jr., and an independent autopsy conducted afterward indicated numerous puncture wounds in his arms, hands, and legs, and evidence that the team had attempted a “cutdown” — slicing into his arm in an attempt to find a vein — before successfully killing him.
James’s botched execution followed Alabama’s attempts to kill Alan Miller in September, and Kenneth Smith in November, but both were called off after repeated failed attempts to insert IV lines into them.
Ivey then ordered a “top-to-bottom review” of Alabama’s execution protocol. That review, conducted by the Alabama Department of Corrections — the entity responsible for the botched executions — was never made public. And its principal recommendation was to lengthen the time corrections officials had to kill people before their death warrants expired. The previous time frame was 24 hours; the state increased that to 30 hours.
NPR reported that James’s attorney had asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of execution, maintaining that Alabama has repeatedly failed “to carry out a lethal injection execution in a constitutional manner.” The Court denied the request “just after midnight allowing the state to proceed,” the Montgomery Advertiser reported, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissenting, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson.
The Montgomery Advertiser also quoted state Department of Corrections Commissioner John Hamm declaring shortly after the execution that it took corrections officials “three sticks in six minutes” to obtain IV access to Barber’s veins. Hamm said the first “stick” didn’t work, but the other two did, according to the Advertiser.
The 64-year-old Barber was convicted and sentenced to death in 2003 for the 2001 murder of 75-year-old Dorothy Epps during a robbery.