The state of Alabama cannot execute a death row inmate by lethal injection, a federal court ruled this week, ruling that the man chose to die from nitrogen gas using a process the state had not sufficiently completed.
Alan Eugene Miller, a former delivery boy, was sentenced to death after killing three people while working in the city of Birmingham in 1999.
Once on death row, he claims he chose to be executed via nitrogen hypoxia, a process Alabama approved in 2018 as it struggled to get lethal injection drugs from wary drug companies. The Alabama Department of Corrections then lost its paperwork, he says.
“I didn’t want to get stabbed with a needle,” Miller said once said in courttelling of painful past experiences that draw 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 unwilling to use the new nitrogen gas method, a protocol that has never been tried on an inmate in the state.
Progress with the execution, Judge Austin Huffaker Jr. wrote, would cause Miller “irreparable harm” because he would be “deprived of the opportunity to die by the method he chose and instead be forced to die by a method that he tried to avoid and what he claims will be painful.”
The ruling means that the state cannot proceed with the execution other than with nitrogen gas without a court order.
Prior to Miller’s planned murder, state officials were unsure whether they were ready to use the process, which has been suggested as a more humane form of execution but has not yet been tested in three states where it is legal, Alabama, Oklahoma and Mississippi.
At a Sept. 12 hearing, Alabama said there was a “very good chance” that the nitrogen process would be ready for Miller’s execution. Just three days later, John Q. Hamm, the commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, filed an affidavit claiming the opposite.
“The ADOC cannot execute an execution for nitrogen hypoxia on September 22, 2022,” it read.
It is unclear whether the state plans to appeal the ruling.
UKTN has contacted the Alabama Department of Corrections for comment.
The state, like anyone who uses the death penalty, has struggled to find a reliable and humane way to carry out executions.
In 2018, Doyle Lee Hamm’s execution was called off because executioners couldn’t find a vein for the lethal injection drugs after puncturing his skin 11 times over the course of hours.
In July, Joe Nathan James faced an equally long execution, with observers at an autopsy saying officials in Alabama had to cut the man’s skin to place an IV line, outside of state rules.
According to experts, the new implementation method does not look any better. For starters, because it’s a strange combination of an execution using medical technology, it’s ethically impossible to test.
“There could be no legitimate research. There was no way you could design a research project that would be ethical… There will never be a human study. It has no medical reason to be conducted and would never pass any ethical oversight.” that would allow something like this to happen,” Dr. Joel Zivot, associate professor of anesthesiology and surgery at Emory University, told UKTN.
States like Oklahoma have struggled with their own failed lethal injection executionswhere officials accidentally switched drugs and inmates squirmed in pain while strapped to stretchers.
Because medical companies often hate to sell their drugs for use in executions, states like South Carolina have: turned to archaic methods of execution such as the firing squad as an alternative.
UKTN and the non-profit Responsible business initiative for justice (RIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 known signatories to their Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty – with UKTN last on the list. We join high-profile executives such as Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and pledge to raise awareness of the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.