Killer’s execution delayed by federal judge after death row inmate insists Alabama lost his paperwork requesting an alternative to lethal injection
- Alan Eugene Miller, a delivery truck driver who killed three co-workers, was set to be put to death on September 22
- Alabama law allows death row inmates to choose the method used for their execution
- Miller picked nitrogen hypoxia, which deprives the body of oxygen and induces death within two to three minutes
- The Alabama Department of Corrections says it doesn’t have a copy of the form that Miller filled out
- Miller asked to block the execution, claiming the state violated his constitutional rights
- The state had intended to proceed with Miller’s execution by lethal injection
- Judge R. Austin Huffaker Jr ruled that the execution could not go forward unless nitrogen hypoxia is used
- Alabama says it is not prepared to put him to death by nitrogen hypoxia
U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker ruled that death row inmate Alan Eugene Miller should not be put to death unless it is by his chosen method
A federal judge on Monday halted the scheduled lethal injection of an Alabama death row inmate, ruling that he ‘likely faces irreparable injury’ if he is not executed by his requested method.
U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker issued a preliminary injunction blocking Alabama from putting Alan Eugene Miller, a delivery truck driver convicted of killing three co-workers in 1999, to death on September 22 as previously scheduled.
The judge found that the state likely lost Miller’s paperwork requesting to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia – a supposedly more humane method akin to suffocation – which Alabama has authorized but not yet implemented.
An Alabama jury took 20 minutes to convict, in a 10 to 2 vote, in July 2000 and decided that put Miller should be put to death. Two appeals of the verdict were denied.
‘Miller will likely suffer irreparable injury if an injunction does not issue 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 asserts will be painful,’ Huffaker wrote.
Alan Eugene Miller, who shot three co-workers who he believed were spreading rumors about him, will not be put to death on September 22, 2022 as had been previously scheduled
Miller’s lawyers argued that lethal injection, that would be performed in the Alabama death chamber seen here, was painful and inhumane
The injury will be, ‘the loss of his ‘final dignity’—to choose how he will die,’ he added.
Alabama’s attorney general could appeal the decision. The Alabama Department of Corrections and the attorney general did not immediately return emails seeking comment.
Miller’s lawyers filed an injunction on September 1 to halt the death sentence, claiming his rights had been violated.
Under a 2018 state law, death row inmates may choose nitrogen hypoxia for execution despite the fact that protocols for the method had not been cleared by the state Department of Corrections. Miller said that he submitted his form in June of 2018 before the July 2, 2018, deadline.
Miller shot two co-workers to death at their office 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 put to death by lethal injection on September 22, 2022, for a workplace shooting rampage in 1999 that killed three men
Miller, in his motion to stay the execution, argued that past lethal injections including that of Joe Nathan James Jr., who was put to death in July 2022, were painful and inhumane. Death penalty opponents contend the execution was botched.
‘The information that is publicly available to date shows that Mr. James´s body was in `great distress´ during the execution as executioners sliced into his skin several times to find a vein, and that he suffered many `unusual punctures´ that do not normally appear on an executed body,’ Miller’s lawyers wrote.
Nitrogen hypoxia, the supposedly more humane form of execution, it slowly replaces nitrogen for oxygen in the inmate’s air supply. The death row inmate loses consciousness in 15 seconds, brain function ceases 30 seconds later and the heart stops within two to three minutes.
Shelby County coroner’s employees bring out 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 authorized by Alabama and two other states for executions but has never been used by a state to try to put an inmate to death.
Miller testified on September 12 that he had filled out the paperwork for the new form of execution the same day that it had been given to him. He said he left it in the slot of his cell door for someone to collect but didn’t know what happened to it after that.
Miller has not argued that he should not be executed.
State corrections officials say that they never got his paperwork. They argued last week that Miller is just trying to put off his death sentence.
‘It is substantially likely 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 that appears, the State intends to announce its readiness to conduct executions by nitrogen hypoxia in the upcoming weeks,’ Huffaker wrote.
The Alabama Department of Corrections told the judge last week that Alabama ‘has completed many of the preparations necessary for conducting executions by nitrogen hypoxia’ but is not ready to implement it
Miller, a delivery truck driver, fatally shot co-workers 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 the employees had been spreading rumors about him, including that he is gay.
A defense psychiatrist said Miller was delusional and suffered from severe mental illness but his condition wasn’t bad enough to use as a basis for an insanity defense under state law.
Death by Nitrogen hypoxia
Alabama switched from the electric chair to lethal injection after 2002, and in 2018 legislators approved the use of another method, nitrogen hypoxia, amid defense challenges to injections and shortages of chemicals needed for the the injection procedure.
When Alabama approved nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative execution method, state law gave inmates a brief window to designate it as their execution method.
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 execution method, but critics have likened the untested method to human experimentation.
Hypoxia occurs when a person lacks an adequate supply of oxygen.
Nitrogen hypoxia during an execution would be induced by having the offender breathing a gas mixture of pure nitrogen.
The nitrogen could either be supplied by using a medical-grade oxygen tent around the head or a facemask similar to those used by firefighters.
Offenders would lose consciousness about fifteen seconds after the switch was made from oxygen to nitrogen.
Approximately thirty seconds later, they would stop producing brain waves, and the heart would stop beating about two to three minutes after that.
Nitrogen hypoxia would also likely not produce the gruesome deaths that resulted from cyanide gas executions.
The condemned person 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 for using nitrogen to carry out the executions, but is expected to have protocols in place before the end of 2022.