A federal appeals court on Thursday rejected Alabama’s offer to proceed with the planned evening execution of an inmate who claims the state lost its paperwork by choosing an alternative to lethal injection.
In a 2-1 decision, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the state’s request for aprevent the state from carrying out the planned execution of Alan Miller. The state appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday evening to allow its plan to go ahead.
Miller, 57, was convicted of killing three people in a 1999 workplace outburst that demanded the death penalty. A judge blocked the execution plan earlier this week.
Miller testified that four years ago, he turned in the paperwork and chose nitrogen hypoxia as his method of execution, and put it in a slot in his cell door at the Holman Correctional Facility for a prison worker to retrieve. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker Jr. issued a preliminary injunction preventing the state from killing Miller by any means other than nitrogen hypoxia.
By refusing to lift Huffaker’s ban, the appeals court said Thursday that it is “substantially likely” that Miller “submitted a timely election form, even though the state says it does not have a physical record of a form.”
Prison officials in Holman chose not to keep a log or list of the inmates who filed an election form electing nitrogen hypoxia,” the court said, finding that the state also failed to demonstrate that it would suffer “irreparable harm” if the execution would happen. not take place on Thursday.
The Alabama Attorney General’s office quickly appealed the ruling, writing that Miller’s claim that the state has lost the selection form returned by Miller is not reason enough to stop the execution.
The state wrote Miller’s claim that the state was negligent and “misguided electoral method” is “categorically insufficient to rise to the level of constitutional deprivation.”
The state also said that by blocking the execution, the lower courts had “minimized the interests of the state and of the victims of Miller and their families.”
The death sentence for the execution was due to expire at midnight, so the state would have to revoke the warrant by then for the execution to go ahead. Alabama asked judges to rule at 8 p.m.
The state has not explained the reason for the 8 p.m. time request, but the request came after the July execution of inmate Joe Nathan James was delayed for about three hours. The prison system said there were problems setting up an intravenous line, but did not specify how long it took. Advocacy groups have claimed the execution failed.
Miller was visited by relatives and a lawyer on Thursday while he waited to see if his execution would go ahead. He was given a tray of meatloaf, chuckwagon steak, macaroni and French fries, according to the prison system.
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.
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.
“Just because the state is not yet willing to execute anyone by nitrogen hypoxia does not mean it will harm the state or the public to honor Miller’s timely election of nitrogen hypoxia. Conversely, if no warrant is issued, Miller will be irrevocably deprived of his choice in how he will die — a choice the Alabama legislature has given him,” Huffaker wrote.
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.