ATMORE, Ala. — A federal appeals court on Thursday rejected Alabama’s offer to proceed with the scheduled nightly execution of an inmate who claims the state lost his documentation by selecting an alternative to lethal injection.
In a 2-1 decision, the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals denied the state’s request to lift a recent injunction barring the state from carrying out Alan Miller’s planned execution. The state appealed the ruling to the US Supreme Court seeking to move forward with its plan on Thursday night.
Miller, 57, was convicted of killing three people in a workplace rampage in 1999, earning him the death penalty. A judge blocked the execution plan earlier this week.
Miller testified that he had turned in paperwork four years ago selecting nitrogen hypoxia as his method of execution, placing it in a slot in his cell door at Holman Correctional Center for a prison worker to pick up. On Tuesday, US District Judge R. Austin Huffaker Jr. issued a preliminary injunction preventing the state from killing Miller by any means other than nitrogen hypoxia.
Refusing to lift Huffaker’s injunction, the appeals court said Thursday that it is “substantially likely” that Miller “filed a timely election form even though the state says it has no physical record of a form.”
“Holman prison officials chose not to keep a record or list of inmates who submitted an election form choosing nitrogen hypoxia,” the court said, concluding that the state also failed to show that it “would suffer irreparable harm.” ” if the execution didn’t do it. will not take place on Thursday.
The Alabama attorney general’s office quickly appealed the ruling, writing that Miller’s claim that the state lost the selection form Miller returned is not sufficient reason to stop the execution.
The state wrote that Miller’s claim that the state was negligent and “lost its method of choice form” is “categorically insufficient to rise to the level of a constitutional deprivation.”
The state also said that by blocking the execution, the lower courts had “discounted the interests of the state and of Miller’s victims and their families to zero.”
The death sentence for the execution was due to expire at midnight, so the state would need the court order lifted by then to allow the execution to proceed. Alabama requested that the judges rule at 8 p.m.
The state did not explain the reason for the 8 p.m. time request, but the request came after inmate Joe Nathan James’s execution in July was delayed by about three hours. The prison system said there was difficulty establishing an IV, but did not specify how long it took. Advocacy groups have alleged that the execution was botched.
Miller received visits from family members and a lawyer Thursday as he waited to see if his execution would proceed. He was given a tray of food that included meatloaf, steak, macaroni and fries, the prison system said.
Nitrogen hypoxia is a proposed method of execution in which death would occur by forcing the inmate to breathe only nitrogen, thereby depriving them of the oxygen necessary to maintain bodily functions. It is authorized as a method of execution in three states, but no state has attempted to execute an inmate using the unproven method. Alabama officials told the judge they are working to finalize the protocol.
When Alabama approved nitrogen hypoxia as a method of execution in 2018, state law gave inmates a brief window to designate it as their method of execution.
“Just because the state isn’t yet prepared to execute someone for nitrogen hypoxia doesn’t mean it’s going to hurt the state or the public to honor Miller’s timely nitrogen hypoxia election. To the contrary, if no warrant is issued, Miller will be irrevocably deprived of his choice as to how he will die, a choice given to him by the Alabama Legislature,” Huffaker wrote.
Prosecutors said Miller, a delivery truck driver, killed co-workers Lee Holdbrooks and Scott Yancy at a business in suburban Birmingham and then went on to shoot former supervisor Terry Jarvis at a business where Miller had previously worked. . Each man was shot multiple times, and Miller was captured after a highway chase.
Trial testimony indicated 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, but also said that Miller’s condition was not bad enough to be used as the basis for an insanity defense under state law.
This story has been corrected to show Alabama’s last execution was in July.