The state of Alabama cannot execute a death row inmate by lethal injection, a federal court ruled this week, holding that the man chose to die with nitrogen gas using a process the state had not properly finalized.
Alan Eugene Miller, a former delivery driver, was sentenced to death after killing three people on the job in 1999 in Birmingham.
Once on death row, he claims he chose to be executed via nitrogen hypoxia, a process Alabama authorized in 2018 as it scrambled to obtain lethal injection drugs from wary drug companies. The Alabama Department of Corrections later lost his paperwork, he says.
“I didn’t want to be stabbed with a needle,” Miller once said in courtrecounting painful past experiences drawing blood.
Meanwhile, the state said Miller never asked to be killed with nitrogen and planned to execute him by lethal injection on Sept. 22.
On Monday, a federal judge sided with Miller, ruling that the state was not prepared to use the new nitrogen gas method, a protocol that has never been tested on an inmate in the state.
Going forward with the execution, Judge Austin Huffaker Jr. wrote, would cause Miller “irreparable injury” because he would be “deprived of the ability to die by the method he chose and instead be forced to die by a method he tried.” to avoid and what it affirms will be painful.
The ruling means the state cannot move forward with the execution by any method other than nitrogen gas without a court order.
Before Miller’s planned murder, state officials were wrong about whether they were ready to use the process, which has been proposed as a more humane form of execution but has yet to be tested in three states where it is legal, Alabama, Oklahoma and Mississippi.
During a Sept. 12 hearing, Alabama said there was a “very good chance” the nitrogen process would be ready for Miller’s execution. Just three days later, Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Q. Hamm filed an affidavit saying otherwise.
“The ADOC cannot perform a nitrogen hypoxia execution on September 22, 2022,” it read.
It is unclear if the state intends to appeal the ruling.
the independent has contacted the Alabama Department of Corrections for comment.
The state, like all those that use the death penalty, has struggled to find a humane and reliable way of carrying out executions.
In 2018, Doyle Lee Hamm’s execution was called off because executioners were unable to find a vein for lethal injection drugs after piercing his skin 11 times over the course of hours.
In July, Joe Nathan James faced a similarly lengthy execution, where autopsy observers said Alabama officials had to cut into the man’s skin to place an IV, acting outside state rules.
The new execution method doesn’t look any better, according to experts. For one thing, because it’s an odd combination of an execution using medical technology, it’s ethically impossible to prove.
“There could be no legitimate research. There is no way to design a research project that is ethical…There will never be a human study. It has no medical reason to be done and would never go through any ethical oversight that would allow such a thing happen,” said Dr. Joel Zivot, an associate professor of anesthesiology and surgery at Emory University, he told CNN.
States like Oklahoma have struggled with botched lethal injection executions of his ownwhere officials mistakenly traded drugs and inmates writhed in pain while strapped to stretchers.
Because medical companies are often loathe to sell their drugs for use in executions, states like South Carolina have resorted to archaic execution methods such as the firing squad as an alternative.
The Independent and the non-profit organization Responsible entrepreneurship for justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the United States. The RBIJ has attracted over 150 known signatories to its Business Leaders Statement Against the Death Penalty, with The Independent coming last on the list. We join high-profile executives like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.