Last Thursday, the state of Alabama took three hours to find a vein in Joe Nathan James Jr through which officials could pump lethal injection drugs and execute him, a process that the department of corrections insisted was “nothing out of the ordinary”.
Alabama appears to specialize in its extraordinary sense of the ordinary, particularly when it comes to the death penalty. It has now emerged that, during that execution, prison officials subjected female reporters who came as witnesses to the proceeding to a clothing inspection, attempting to bar one woman from the death chamber on grounds that her skirt was too short.
Ivana Hrynkiw, a journalist for Alabama’s pre-eminent news outlet AL.com, recounted how she was pulled aside by a prison official and told that her skirt was too diminutive to meet regulations. “I tried to pull my skirt to my hips to make the skirt longer, but was told it was still not appropriate,” she recounted on Twitter.
The paradox that the state went to such lengths to uphold what it regards as propriety in clothing even as it prepared to kill a man appears to have been lost on the department of corrections. Officials also subjected an Associated Press reporter, Kim Chandler, to a full-body inspection, making her stand to have the length of her clothing checked. Chandler said that such an indignity had never happened to her before in the many times she had covered executions since 2002.
Hrynkiw was eventually allowed to enter the death chamber after she borrowed a pair of waterproof fisher’s waders from a photographer, attaching their suspenders under her shirt to keep them up. That was deemed appropriate attire when watching a judicial killing.
But even then it didn’t stop. The reporter was informed that her open toe heels were a breach of regulation and she was forced to change into tennis shoes retrieved from her car.
“I felt embarrassed to have my body and my clothes questioned in front of a room of people I mostly never met,” Hrynkiw said. “I sat down, tried to stop blushing, and did my work.”
After all that, the reporter did her job, and so did Alabama. After three hours digging around for a vein, it found one, and went ahead with the execution.
James Jr was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in the 1994 killing of 26-year-old Faith Hall. James Jr and Hall had briefly dated before she rejected him, authorities have said.
Hall’s daughters wanted James Jr to spend the rest of his life in prison but pleaded for him to not be executed.