An Alabama man who the state said would be executed by lethal injection is still alive because executioners couldn’t find his vein before the midnight deadline to kill him.
Alan Miller, 57, who was convicted in 1999 of murdering three people in the workplace, is now enjoying an unscheduled stay in his cell after prison officials made the decision at about 11:30 p.m.
Alabama Corrections Commissioner John Hamm said the state halted the planned execution of Miller late Thursday after determining they could not get the lethal injection before the midnight deadline.
“Due to time constraints due to the delay in court proceedings, the execution was called off after it was determined that the convict’s veins were inaccessible in accordance with our protocol before the death sentence expired,” Hamm said.
The Holman Correctional Facility execution team began trying to gain intravenous access, but they didn’t know for how long. Miller had previously said he was afraid of needles.
The confusion was compounded by a divided US Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for the execution to begin less than three hours earlier.
Alan Eugene Miller, who shot three colleagues he thought were spreading rumors about him, was unexpectedly given a reprieve after prison officials couldn’t find his veins to administer a lethal injection before the midnight deadline.
Alan Eugene Miller is released from Pelham City Jail, Alabama on August 5, 1999. Miller would be put to death by lethal injection on September 22, 2022 after a last-minute Supreme Court decision paved the way
Miller’s attorneys had argued that Miller had requested to be put to death with nitrogen hypoxia, which would be performed in the Alabama death chamber seen here, and that lethal injection was painful and inhumane.
Supreme Court justices in a 5-4 decision overturned an injunction — issued by a federal judge and upheld by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — that had blocked Miller’s execution from continuing.
Miller’s attorneys said the state lost paperwork requesting that his execution be carried out using nitrogen hypoxia, a method legally available to him but never used in the United States before.
When Alabama approved nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method in 2018, state law gave inmates a short time to designate it as their method of execution.
Miller testified that four years ago he turned in paperwork and chose nitrogen hypoxia as his method of execution, and put the documents in a slot in his cell door at the Holman Correctional Facility for a prison worker to retrieve.
Prison officials said they had not received the form and that Miller was simply looking for ways to delay his execution.
He had explained that he preferred this method of execution because it reminded him of the nitrous oxide used in dental offices, which seemed better than lethal injection.
“I didn’t want to be stabbed with a needle,” Miller said.
U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker Jr. on Tuesday issued a preliminary injunction blocking the state from killing Miller by any means other than nitrogen hypoxia, after finding it was “substantially likely” that Miller “submitted a timely election form, although the state says it has no physical record of any form.’
Miller, a truck driver, was sentenced to death after killing his colleagues Lee Holdbrooks and Scott Yancy at a business in suburban Birmingham, prosecutors said.
Shelby County coroner’s officers retrieve one of two bodies from Ferguson Enterprises in Pelham, Alabama, where two employees, Lee Holbrooks and Christopher Yancy, were murdered in August 1999 by Alan Eugene Miller
Miller shot and killed two co-workers in their office, then killed a third person at a company he worked for
He then drove off to shoot former supervisor Terry Jarvis at a company where Miller had previously worked. Each man was shot multiple times and Miller was captured after a highway chase.
Witness statements revealed that Miller believed the men were spreading rumors about him, including that he was gay.
A defense-hired psychiatrist found Miller was suffering from a serious mental illness, but also said Miller’s condition wasn’t bad enough to serve as the basis for a defense against insanity under state law.
In July 2000, an Alabama jury took 20 minutes to convict by 10 to 2 and decided that Miller should be put to death. Two appeals against the verdict were dismissed.
“In Alabama, we are committed to law and order and upholding justice. Despite the circumstances that led to the cancellation of this execution, nothing changes the fact that a jury heard the evidence from this case and made a decision.
“It doesn’t change the fact that Mr. Miller never disputed his crimes. And it doesn’t change the fact that three families are still grieving,” Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said in a statement.
“We are all well aware that Michael Holdbrooks, Terry Lee Jarvis and Christopher Scott Yancey did not choose to die from bullets in the chest.
“Tonight I pray with the families and loved ones of the victims as they are forced to continue to relive the pain of their loss,” Ivey said.
Alabama Corrections Commissioner John Hamm explained that the execution had to be called off due to time constraints — days after U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker Jr. ordered the execution of Alan Miller over the method of execution
Although Alabama has allowed nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method, the state has never executed anyone who uses the method, and Alabama’s prison system has not yet finalized procedures for using it to carry out a death sentence.
Nitrogen hypoxia is a proposed method of execution that would cause death by forcing the inmate to inhale only nitrogen, depriving him or her of the oxygen needed to maintain bodily functions.
It is allowed in three states as a method of execution, but no state has attempted to put a prisoner to death using the untested method. Alabama officials told the judge they are working to finalize the protocol.
Many states have struggled to purchase execution drugs in recent years after US and European pharmaceutical companies began blocking the use of their lethal injection products. That has led some to seek alternative methods.
The aborted execution came after the July execution of Joe Nathan James took more than three hours to get underway after the state struggled to set up an intravenous line, leading to accusations that the execution had failed.
Death from nitrogen hypoxia
Alabama switched from the electric chair to lethal injection after 2002, and in 2018, lawmakers approved the use of another method, nitrogen hypoxia, amid defense challenges for injections and shortages of chemicals needed for the injection procedure.
When Alabama approved nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative method of execution, state law gave inmates a short time to designate it as their method of execution.
Death would be caused by forcing the prisoner to inhale only nitrogen, depriving them of oxygen.
Lawmakers theorized that death from nitrogen hypoxia could be a simpler and more humane method of execution, but critics have compared the untested method to human experiments.
Hypoxia occurs when a person does not have enough oxygen.
Nitrogen hypoxia during an execution would be caused by having the perpetrator inhale a gas mixture of pure nitrogen.
The nitrogen can be supplied by using a medical grade oxygen tent around the head or a face mask similar to that used by firefighters.
Violators would lose consciousness about fifteen seconds after switching from oxygen to nitrogen.
About thirty seconds later, they stopped producing brain waves, and the heart stopped beating about two to three minutes after that.
Nitrogen hypoxia also probably wouldn’t cause the horrific deaths that resulted from cyanide gas executions.
The convict would feel slightly intoxicated before losing consciousness and eventually 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 to use nitrogen to carry out the executions, but is expected to have protocols in place by the end of 2022.