U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker ruled that death row inmate Alan Eugene Miller should not be put to death unless by his chosen method
A federal judge on Monday halted the planned lethal injection of an Alabama death row inmate, ruling that he ‘likely faces irreparable harm’ if he is not executed by his desired method.
U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker issued a preliminary injunction blocking Alabama from putting Alan Eugene Miller, a truck driver convicted of killing three employees in 1999, to death on Sept. 22 as previously planned.
The judge found that the state likely lost Miller’s paperwork requesting to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia — a supposedly more humane method similar to asphyxiation — which Alabama has approved but not yet implemented.
An Alabama jury took 20 minutes to deliberate, by a 10 to 2 vote, in July 2000 and decided that the slain Miller should be put to death. Two appeals against the judgment were rejected.
“Miller will likely suffer irreparable harm if an injunction is not granted because he will be deprived of the ability to die by the method he chose and instead will be forced to die by a method he sought to avoid and which he claims will be painful.” ‘ wrote Huffaker.
Alan Eugene Miller, who shot three employees who he believed were spreading rumors about him, will not be killed on September 22, 2022, as previously planned.
Miller’s lawyers argued that lethal injection, which would be carried out in the Alabama death chamber seen here, was painful and inhumane
The damage will be “the loss of his ‘ultimate dignity’ — to choose how he wants to die,” he added.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshal filed a notice Tuesday to appeal the decision. The Alabama Department of Corrections did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
Miller’s attorneys filed an injunction on Sept. 1 to halt the death sentence, arguing that his rights had been violated.
Under a 2018 state law, death row inmates can choose nitrogen hypoxia for execution despite protocols for the method not having been approved by the state Department of Corrections. Miller said he submitted his form in June 2018 before the July 2, 2018, deadline.
Miller shot dead two employees in their office and then killed a third person at a company where he used to work
Alan Eugene Miller is seen being led away from the Pelham City Jail in Alabama on August 5, 1999. Miller was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on September 22, 2022 for a 1999 workplace shooting that killed three men
Miller argued in his motion to stay the execution that previous lethal injections, including that of Joe Nathan James Jr., who was executed in July 2022, were painful and inhumane. Opponents of the death penalty argue that the execution was botched.
‘The information publicly available to date shows that Mr James’ body was in ‘great distress’ during the execution as executioners cut into his skin several times to find a vein and that he suffered many ‘unusual punctures’ that do. do not normally appear on an executed body,’ Miller’s lawyers wrote.
Nitrogen hypoxia, the supposedly more humane form of execution, slowly substitutes nitrogen for oxygen in the inmate’s air supply. The condemned person loses consciousness in 15 seconds, brain function ceases 30 seconds later, and the heart stops within two to three minutes.
Shelby County coroner’s officials retrieve one of two bodies from Ferguson Enterprises in Pelham, Alabama, where two employees, Lee Holbrooks and Christopher Yancy, were killed in August 1999 by Alan Eugene Miller
It has been approved by Alabama and two other states for executions, but has never been used by a state to attempt to kill an inmate.
Miller testified on September 12 that he had filled out the paperwork for the new form of execution the same day it was given to him. He said he left it in the opening of his cell door for someone to retrieve, but he did not know what happened to it after that.
Miller has not argued that he should not be executed.
State corrections officials say they never got his paperwork. They argued last week that Miller is just trying to delay his death sentence.
“It is substantially probable that Miller timely elected nitrogen hypoxia,” the judge wrote, while also considering the possibility that the inmate could be lying.
Alabama is one of three states, including Mississippi and Oklahoma, that have approved nitrogen hypoxia.
“From all indications, the state intends to announce that it is prepared to carry out executions by nitrogen hypoxia in the coming weeks,” Huffaker wrote.
The Alabama Department of Corrections told the judge last week that Alabama ‘has completed many of the preparations necessary to carry out executions by nitrogen hypoxia’ but is not ready to implement it
Miller, a truck driver, fatally shot colleagues Lee Holdbrooks, Scott Yancy and Terry Jarvis in suburban Birmingham. Miller shot Holdbrooks and Yancy at one business and then drove to another location to shoot Jarvis, evidence showed.
Miller believed that employees had spread rumors about him, including that he is gay.
A defense psychiatrist said Miller was delusional and suffered from severe mental illness, but his condition was not severe enough to use as the basis for an insanity defense under state law.
Death from nitrogen hypoxia
Alabama switched from the electric chair to lethal injection after 2002, and in 2018 lawmakers approved the use of another method, nitrogen hypoxia, amid defense challenges to injections and shortages of chemicals needed for the injection procedure.
When Alabama approved nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative method of execution, state law gave inmates a short window to designate it as their method of execution.
Death would be caused by forcing the inmate to breathe only nitrogen, thereby depriving them of oxygen.
Lawmakers theorized that death by nitrogen hypoxia could be a simpler and more humane method of execution, but critics have compared the untested method to human experimentation.
Hypoxia occurs when a person lacks sufficient oxygen supply.
Nitrogen hypoxia during an execution would be induced by having the perpetrator inhale a gas mixture of pure nitrogen.
The nitrogen could either be supplied by using a medical-grade oxygen tent around the head or a face mask similar to those used by firefighters.
Criminals would lose consciousness about fifteen seconds after switching from oxygen to nitrogen.
About thirty seconds later, they stopped producing brain waves, and the heart stopped beating about two to three minutes after that.
Nor would nitrogen hypoxia likely produce the gruesome deaths that resulted from cyanide gas executions.
The convict would feel slightly intoxicated before losing consciousness and ultimately dying.
No state has used nitrogen hypoxia to carry out an execution, and no state has developed a protocol for its use, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Alabama has not yet developed a system to use nitrogen to carry out the executions, but is expected to have protocols in place by the end of 2022.