Alabama execution called off due to time and medical concerns

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ATMORE, Ala. (AP) – Alabama officials called off Thursday’s lethal injection of a man convicted in a 1999 workplace shooting because of timing issues and problems accessing the inmate’s veins.

Alabama Corrections Commissioner John Hamm said prison officials halted the execution after they determined inmate Arthur Miller’s “veins could not be accessed in accordance with our protocol” before the midnight deadline to start the execution. Miller has been returned to his cell at the South Alabama jail, Hamm said.

The halt to the execution came three hours after a divided US Supreme Court cleared the way for the execution to begin. The 5-4 decision lifted an injunction granted after Miller’s lawyers said the state lost his papers and requested that his execution be carried out using nitrogen hypoxia, a method legally available to him but never before been used in the United States

Miller, 57, was convicted of killing three people in a workplace rampage in 1999, earning him the death sentence.

THIS IS A NEWS UPDATE. AP’s previous story follows below.

ATMORE, Ala. (AP) – A divided U.S. Supreme Court said Thursday night that Alabama can proceed with the lethal injection of an inmate convicted in a 1999 workplace shooting, vacating two lower court rulings that sided with the convicted man and his request for another method of execution.

The 5-4 decision reversed rulings by the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals and a federal judge that the lethal injection could not proceed after Alan Miller’s lawyers said the state lost his paperwork requesting that his execution was performed using nitrogen hypoxia, a method legally available to him but one never used before in the United States

Miller, 57, was convicted of killing three people in a workplace rampage in 1999, earning him the death sentence. A judge blocked the state’s execution plan earlier this week.

Miller testified that he filed papers four years ago choosing nitrogen hypoxia as his method of execution and placed it in a slot in his cell door at Holman Correctional Facility for a prison worker to retrieve.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker Jr. issued the a preliminary injunction blocking the state from killing Miller by means other than nitrogen hypoxia after finding it “substantially likely” that Miller “submitted a timely election form, even though the state says it has no physical record of a form. ”

Thursday night’s Supreme Court ruling lifted that injunction at the state’s request. The judges lifted the stay around 21, which gave the state a three-hour period to get the execution underway before the death sentence expires at midnight. July performance of Joe Nathan James took more than three hours to get started after the state struggled to establish an IV line.

Although Alabama has approved nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method, it has never executed anyone by that method, and the state’s prison system has not finalized procedures for using it to carry out a death sentence.

Nitrogen hypoxia is a proposed method of execution in which death would be caused by forcing the inmate to breathe only nitrogen, thereby depriving him or her of the oxygen necessary to maintain bodily functions. It is approved as an execution method in three states, but no state has tried to kill an inmate with the untested method. Alabama officials told the judge they are working to finalize the protocol.

Many states have struggled to buy execution drugs in recent years after American and European pharmaceutical companies began blocking the use of their products for lethal injections. This has led some to seek alternative methods.

When Alabama approved nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method in 2018, state law gave inmates a short window to designate it as their execution method. Miller testified that he chose nitrogen when the mold was distributed on death row because he did not like needles.

“The fact that the State is not yet prepared to execute someone by nitrogen hypoxia does not mean that it would harm the State or the public to honor Miller’s timely choice of nitrogen hypoxia. In contrast, if an injunction is not issued, Miller will be irrevocably deprived of his choice as to to how he wants to die — a choice the Alabama legislature bestowed upon him,” Huffaker wrote.

Miller had visits from family members and a lawyer Thursday as he waited to see if his execution would go ahead. He was given a food tray that included meatloaf, chuckwagon steak, macaroni and fries, the prison system said.

Prosecutors said Miller, a truck driver, killed co-workers Lee Holdbrooks and Scott Yancy at a business in suburban Birmingham and then drove to shoot former supervisor Terry Jarvis at a business where Miller had previously worked. Each man was shot multiple times, and Miller was captured after a highway chase.

The trial showed that Miller believed the men were spreading rumors about him, including that he was gay. A psychiatrist hired by the defense found Miller suffered from serious mental illness, but also said Miller’s condition was not severe enough to use as the basis for an insanity defense under state law.

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This story has been corrected to show that Alabama’s last execution was in July.

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