The state of Alabama cannot execute a death row prisoner by lethal injection, a federal court ruled this week, holding that the man elected to die by nitrogen gas using a process the state had not properly terminated.
Alan Eugene Miller, a former delivery driver, was sentenced to death after killing three people at work in 1999 in the city of Birmingham.
Once on death row, he claims he chose to be executed via nitrogen hypoxia, a process Alabama authorized in 2018 as it struggled to secure lethal injections from wary drug companies. The Alabama Department of Corrections lost its paperwork, he says.
“I didn’t want to get 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 September 22.
On Monday, a federal judge sided with Miller and ruled 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.
Proceeding with the execution, wrote Judge Austin Huffaker Jr, would cause Miller “irreparable harm” because he would be “deprived of the ability to die by the method he chose and will instead be forced to die by a method he sought to avoid and what he claims will be painful.”
The ruling means the state cannot proceed with execution by any method other than nitrogen gas without a court order.
Prior to Miller’s planned murder, state officials erred about whether they were ready to use the process, which was proposed as a more humane form of execution but which remains untested in three states where it is legal, Alabama, Oklahoma and Mississippi.
During a Sept. 12 hearing, Alabama said there was a “high chance” that the nitrogen process would be ready for Miller’s execution. Just three days later, Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Q. Hamm filed a statement to the contrary.
“ADOC cannot perform a nitrogen hypoxia execution on September 22, 2022,” it read.
It is unclear whether the state intends to appeal the decision.
The Independent contacted the Alabama Department of Corrections for comment.
The state, like all those who use the death penalty, has struggled to find a credible and humane way to carry out executions.
In 2018, Doyle Lee Hamm’s execution was called off because the executioners were unable to find a vein for the injecting drugs after puncturing his skin 11 times over the course of hours.
In July of this year, Joe Nathan James faced an equally lengthy execution, where observers at an autopsy said Alabama authorities had to cut the man’s skin to place an intravenous line, acting outside of state rules.
The new method of execution doesn’t look any better, according to experts. On the one hand, 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 is no way you can design a research project that is ethical… There will never be a human study. There is no medical reason to be conducted and would never go through any sort of ethical oversight that would allow such a thing to happen,” said Joel Zivot, associate professor of anesthesiology and surgery at Emory University, told CNN.
States like Oklahoma have struggled with botched lethal injection executions on their ownwhere authorities mistakenly exchanged drugs and inmates writhed in agony while strapped to stretchers.
Because medical companies are generally loathe to sell their drugs for use in executions, states like South Carolina turned to archaic execution methods like the firing squad as an alternative.
The independent and the non-profit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to its Declaration of Business Leaders Against the Death Penalty – with The Independent as the latest on the list. We’ve joined high-profile executives like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are committed to highlighting the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.