What happened when Alabama tried and failed to kill Alan Eugene Miller
At Holman Correctional Facility, in Atmore, Alabama, the prisoners have a tradition of beating their doors when guards take a man from the holding area colloquially known as the “death cell” to the execution chamber to be killed. More than 150 men slam their full strength against solid steel, rolling thunder down the halls. It’s a show of solidarity with the condemned man—not because he is presumed innocent or absolved, but because the men of death row are uncommonly aware of death’s uncompromising egalitarianism. It’s coming for all of us, and they mean it when they say it.
Death came for Joe Nathan James Jr. on July 28 of this year, but the lethal-injection procedure that followed the prisoners’ last cage-rattling display of camaraderie stretched to roughly three hours, resulting in multiple needle-puncture sites and, eventually, what appears to have been a venous cutdown, or an incision into James’s inner arm meant to reveal a vein. (This is not, quite obviously, what is supposed to happen.) Yet in the immediate aftermath of James’s execution, John Hamm, the commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, claimed that “nothing out of the ordinary” had taken place in the course of his killing, which might’ve passed for public knowledge had The Atlantic not published the results of an independent autopsy staged shortly after James’s death. I was there at the autopsy and saw for myself what they had done to him, all the bruised puncture sites and open wounds. I confess I had hoped the facts of what happened to James might prompt some hesitation among Alabama’s legislators about rushing to lethally inject another man. But no Corrections Department representative ever so much as responded to my questions, much less the substance of the reporting: The next execution date kept drawing nearer.