Alabama execution canceled due to time and medical concerns

ATMORE, ala. — Alabama officials canceled Thursday’s lethal injection of a man convicted of a 1999 workplace shooting due to time constraints and difficulties accessing the inmate’s veins.

Alabama Corrections Commissioner John Hamm said the state has halted the planned execution of Alan Miller after determining they could not get the lethal injection before the midnight deadline. Prison officials made the decision at about 11:30 p.m. The last-minute postponement came nearly three hours after a divided US Supreme Court cleared the way for the execution to begin.

“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 execution team tried to gain intravenous access, but he didn’t know for how long.

Miller was returned to his regular cell in a South Alabama prison.

Miller, 57, was convicted of killing three people in a 1999 workplace outburst that demanded the death penalty.

Judges, 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 blocked Miller’s execution. 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.

U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker Jr. issued a preliminary injunction on Tuesday to block the state from killing Miller by any means other than nitrogen hypoxia, after it determined it was “substantially likely” that Miller “submitted a timely election form, though the state says it has no physical registration of a form.”

Prosecutors said Miller, a truck driver, killed colleagues Lee Holdbrooks and Scott Yancy at a business in suburban Birmingham, 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 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 my prayers are with the families and loved ones of the victims as they have been forced to deal with reliving the pain of their loss,” Ivey said.

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.

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

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