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Arnold & Porter Files Suit Against Governor of Alabama, State Officials for Cruel and Unusual Punishment

May 3, 2023

Montgomery, Alabama, May 3, 2023 — On behalf of The Estate of Joe Nathan James, Jr., Arnold & Porter filed suit against the Governor of Alabama and other state officials for their roles in the cruel and unusual punishment of Mr. James, whose execution by lethal injection was the longest in U.S. history.

“Regardless of whether you support or oppose the death penalty, we should all be able to agree that the State should not be inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on the condemned,” said Arnold & Porter partner Anand Agneshwar, one of the attorneys representing Mr. James’s Estate. “Our motive in bringing this case is to ensure the State of Alabama is held accountable for subjecting Mr. James to three hours of agony and to prevent prisoners from enduring such prolonged and unnecessary pain in the future.”

The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) shrouds its execution protocol in secrecy and refuses to disclose critical details surrounding Mr. James’s execution. Yet, as the Complaint alleges, the available facts make clear that Defendants violated Mr. James’s rights under the U.S. and Alabama Constitutions. First, the State took more than three hours to set IV lines in Mr. James. This is far longer than it should take to set an IV line, and in fact many states mandate that prison officials abandon efforts to set an IV after more than an hour of failed attempts. Second, autopsy photos and two autopsy reports show that Mr. James suffered bruising, cuts, and multiple puncture wounds. Third, at the time the State began to administer the lethal drugs, Mr. James was unconscious—a violation of his right to hear the death warrant read and to say his final words. Mr. James had planned to apologize to his mother, daughters, and the victim’s family, and to say a final prayer. He was denied the opportunity to do so, due to the unconstitutional actions of Alabama state officials.

While the State succeeded in putting Mr. James to death, his horrific execution came amid a series of botched executions by the State of Alabama—the results of a poorly implemented protocol and inadequately trained staff. Between 2018 and 2022, the State unsuccessfully attempted to execute three other prisoners, who lived to testify to the suffering they endured during repeated attempts to set IV lines. This series of executions prompted Governor Kay Ivey to issue a press release on November 21, 2022, announcing a halt to all executions in the State and ordering a “top-to-bottom” review of ADOC’s execution protocol. Unfortunately, that action came too late for Mr. James.

Mr. James’s brother Hakim James, who has been appointed as the personal representative of the Estate, provided the following statement:

Alabama has never admitted to the pain it caused Joe and our family.
Instead, prison officials have caused terrible suffering to two more men, just like they did to Joe.

State officials are like the victim in a horror movie, refusing to listen to cries of warning.
They keep trying to execute people in the same painful way, even though they know it will go horribly wrong.

Alabama must own up to its wrongs. This lawsuit is not about attacking the death penalty or seeking pity for my brother. It is simply a demand that Alabama officials recognize the humanity of the people the State executes.

Mr. James’s Estate is represented by attorneys Anand Agneshwar, Paige Sharpe, Angelique Ciliberti, and Tamryn Holley of Arnold & Porter. Mr. Agneshwar emphasized that the family is seeking compensatory damages for the pain inflicted on Mr. James because that is the only remedy available under the law. Since its founding, Arnold & Porter has had a deep commitment to pro bono service, seeking to achieve equal access to justice and the rule of law.

About Arnold & Porter

Arnold & Porter combines sophisticated regulatory, litigation, and transactional capabilities to resolve clients’ most complex issues. With over 1,000 lawyers practicing in 14 offices worldwide, we offer deep industry experience and an integrated approach that spans more than 40 practice areas. Through multidisciplinary collaboration and focused industry experience, we provide innovative and effective solutions to mitigate risks, address challenges, and achieve successful outcomes.