MONTGOMERY, Ala. (TBEN) — A federal judge in Alabama on Monday blocked the execution of a prisoner who says the state has lost his papers and is asking for an alternative to lethal injection.
U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker, Jr. Thursday issued a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from executing Alan Miller using a method other than nitrogen hypoxia, an untested method Miller has requested but Alabama is not yet ready for use. Miller was sentenced to death after being convicted of killing three people in a workplace shooting in 1999.
“Miller is likely to incur irreparable damage if no warrant is issued, as he will be deprived of the opportunity to die by the method he has chosen and instead will be forced to die by a method he tried to avoid and whose he claims this one will be painful. Huffaker wrote. The injury will be: “the loss of his ‘last dignity’ – to choose how he will die,” the judge added.
The ruling blocks Alabama from carrying out the lethal injection scheduled for Thursday. However, the state can appeal the decision. The Alabama Attorney General’s office did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
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. Nitrogen hypoxia is authorized for executions by Alabama and two other states, but has never been used by any state to attempt to put an inmate to death.
When Alabama approved nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative method of execution in 2018, state law gave inmates a short time to designate it as their method of execution. Miller testified last week that he returned a state form selecting nitrogen the same day it was distributed to inmates by a prison employee. He said he left it in the slot of his cell door for a prison worker to pick it up, but didn’t see who picked it up. Alabama prison officials say they do not know Miller returned the form, arguing that Miller is merely trying to delay his execution.
Huffaker wrote that he cannot rule out the possibility that Miller is lying about selecting nitrogen to delay his impending execution, but said his testimony was credible. “It is highly likely that Miller chose nitrogen hypoxia in a timely manner,” the judge wrote.
The judge pointed to the possibility that Alabama could soon be using nitrogen. “From all evidence, the state plans to announce its readiness to carry out executions by nitrogen hypoxia in the coming weeks,” the judge wrote.
The Alabama Department of Corrections told the judge last week that Alabama has “completed many of the preparations needed to carry out executions from nitrogen hypoxia” but is not ready to carry it out.
Miller, a truck driver, was convicted of the 1999 workplace shooting that killed Lee Holdbrooks, Scott Yancy and Terry Jarvis in suburban Birmingham. Miller shot Holdbrooks and Yancy at one company, then drove to another location to shoot Jarvis, evidence showed.
A defense psychiatrist said Miller was delusional and suffered from serious mental illness, but his condition was not bad enough to serve as the basis for a defense against insanity under state law.