ATMORE, Ala. — Alabama officials called off Thursday’s lethal injection of a man convicted of a 1999 workplace shooting due to time constraints and difficulties accessing the inmate’s veins.
Alabama Corrections Commissioner John Hamm said the state has halted the planned execution of Alan Miller after determining they could not get the lethal injection before the midnight TSWT. Prison officials made the decision at about 11:30 p.m. The last-minute postponement came nearly three hours after a divided US Supreme Court cleared the way for the execution to begin.
“Due to time constraints due to the delay in court proceedings, the execution was called off after it was determined that the convict’s veins were inaccessible in accordance with our protocol before the death sentence expired,” Hamm said.
Hamm said that “access to the veins took a little longer than we expected.” He didn’t know how long the team tried to establish a connection, but noted that a number of procedures must be done before the team starts trying to connect the IV line.
Miller was returned to his regular cell in a South Alabama prison.
The aborted execution came after the July execution of Joe Nathan James took more than three hours to get underway after the state struggled to set up an intravenous line, leading to accusations that the execution had failed.
Miller, 57, was sentenced to death after being convicted of a 1999 workplace outburst in which he killed Terry Jarvis, Lee Holdbrooks and Scott Yancy.
“Despite the circumstances that led to the cancellation of this execution, nothing changes the fact that a jury has heard the evidence of this case and made a decision,” Alabama Gov said. Kay Ivey in a statement. She added that three families are still grieving.
“We are all well aware that Michael Holdbrooks, Terry Lee Jarvis and Christopher Scott Yancey did not choose to die from bullets in the chest. Tonight I pray with the families and loved ones of the victims as they are forced to continue to relive the pain of their loss,” Ivey said.
An anti-death penalty group said the situation with Miller’s attempted lethal injection was similar to other “failed” executions.
“It’s hard to see how they can persist in this broken method of execution that goes catastrophically wrong time and again. In its desperation to be executed, Alabama is experimenting on inmates behind closed doors – certainly the definition of cruel and unusual punishment, Maya Foa , director of Reprieve US Forensic Justice Initiative, a human rights group that opposes the death penalty, said in a statement.
Prosecutors said Miller, a truck driver, killed colleagues Holdbrooks and Yancy at a business in suburban Birmingham, then drove off to shoot former supervisor Jarvis at a company where Miller had previously worked. Each man was shot multiple times and Miller was captured after a highway chase.
Witness statements revealed that Miller believed the men were spreading rumors about him, including that he was gay. A psychiatrist hired by the defense found that Miller suffered from serious mental illness and delusions, but also said Miller’s condition was not bad enough to use as a basis for a defense against insanity under state law.
Judges, in a 5-4 decision, overturned an injunction — issued by a federal judge and upheld by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — that blocked Miller’s execution. Miller’s attorneys said the state lost paperwork requesting that his execution be carried out using nitrogen hypoxia, a method legally available to him but never used in the US before.
When Alabama approved nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method in 2018, state law gave inmates a short time to designate it as their method of execution. Miller testified that four years ago he turned in paperwork and chose nitrogen hypoxia as his method of execution, and put the documents in a slot in his cell door at the Holman Correctional Facility for a prison worker to retrieve.
U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker Jr. issued a preliminary injunction on Tuesday to block the state from killing Miller by any means other than nitrogen hypoxia, after it determined it was “substantially likely” that Miller “submitted a timely election form, though the state says it has no physical registration of a form.”
Nitrogen hypoxia is a proposed method of execution that would cause death by forcing the inmate to inhale only nitrogen, depriving him or her of the oxygen needed to maintain bodily functions. Nitrogen hypoxia is allowed for executions in three states, but none have attempted to kill an inmate using the method. Alabama officials told the judge they are working to finalize the protocol.
Many states have struggled to purchase execution drugs in recent years after US and European pharmaceutical companies began blocking the use of their lethal injection products. That has led some to seek alternative methods.
This story has been corrected to show Alabama’s last execution was in July.