Montgomery, Ala. — — A federal judge on Monday barred Alabama from executing an inmate who says the state lost its paperwork requesting an alternative to lethal injection.
US District Judge R. Austin Huffker, Jr. issued a preliminary injunction Thursday preventing the state from executing Alan Miller by any means other than nitrogen hypoxia, an untested method that Miller says requested but Alabama ready to use. Not there. Miller was sentenced to death after being found guilty of killing three people in a 1999 workplace shooting.
“Miller will likely suffer irreparable injury if an injunction is not issued because he will be deprived of his ability to die by the method he has chosen and will instead be forced to die in the manner he sought to avoid.” and which he claims would be painful,” Huffkar wrote. The judge said the injury would be “a loss of his ‘ultimate dignity’ – to choose how he will die.”
The ruling bars Alabama from administering the lethal injection scheduled for Thursday. However, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall will appeal the decision, Marshall’s spokesman Mike Lewis wrote in an email.
Nitrogen hypoxia is a proposed execution method in which death is caused by forcing the prisoner to breathe only nitrogen, depriving him of the oxygen he needs to maintain bodily functions. Nitrogen hypoxia is authorized for executions by Alabama and two other states, but no state has attempted to put a prisoner to death without trial.
When Alabama approved nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative execution method in 2018, state law gave prisoners a brief window to designate it as an execution method.
Miller testified last week that he returned a state form, choosing nitrogen the same day it was distributed to inmates by a prison worker. He said he left it in the slot of his cell’s door for a prison worker to collect, but did not see who picked it up. Miller described how he disliked needles because of painful attempts to draw blood. He said the nitrogen method reminded him of nitrous oxide gas used in dentist offices, and it seemed better than lethal injection.
“I didn’t want to be stabbed with a needle,” said Miller.
Alabama prison officials say they have no record of Miller returning the form, arguing that Miller is just trying to delay his execution.
Huffker wrote that he could not rule out the possibility that Miller was lying about selecting Nitrogen to delay his impending execution, but said his testimony was credible. “It is quite likely that Miller chose nitrogen hypoxia in time,” Judge wrote.
The judge noted the possibility that Alabama may soon be able to use nitrogen. “Whatever appears, the state intends to announce its readiness to perform executions by nitrogen hypoxia in the coming weeks,” the judge wrote.
The Alabama Department of Corrections told the judge last week that Alabama had “completed a number of preparations necessary to conduct execution by nitrogen hypoxia” but was not ready to implement it.
Miller, a delivery truck driver, was convicted in a 1999 workplace shooting that killed Lee Holdbrook, Scott Yancy and Terry Jarvis in suburban Birmingham. Miller shoots Holdbrook and Yancy at one business and then moves to another to shoot Jarvis, evidence shows.
A defense psychiatrist said Miller was delusional and suffering from severe mental illness, but his condition was not bad enough to be used as grounds for a defense of insanity under state law.