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Alabama schedules nitrogen gas execution for inmate who survived lethal injection attempt

Alabama has set a date for the next execution of Alan Eugene Millera convicted murderer who, after surviving a previous execution attempt, is set to become the second inmate ever executed using nitrogen in the United States. Nitrogen hypoxia is a controversial method authorized only in a handful of American states and which essentially aims to asphyxiate the prisoner with a gas mask devoid of oxygen.

The first person executed in this way was Kenneth Smith, who was executed in late January, marking the state’s first use of nitrogen gas for an execution. Although nitrogen hypoxia has technically been permitted as an alternative execution method for several years in Alabama, as well as Oklahoma and Mississippi, no one was actually executed with the poison gas before Smith earlier this year.

Miller’s execution is scheduled for September 26, according to a memo released Wednesday by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey’s office, which said nitrogen hypoxia was the method used. Miller was convicted of murdering three men in 1999.

Writing to Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Hamm giving him a timetable for the execution — beginning at midnight Sept. 26 and ending at 6 a.m. local time the next morning — Ivey said that she had “no current plans to grant clemency in this matter.” ” but nevertheless has “the power under the Constitution of the State of Alabama to grant a stay or commutation, if necessary, at any time before the execution is carried out.”

Ivey’s memo follows a ruling last week by the Alabama Supreme Court that authorized the nitrogen gas execution and approved a request from the state attorney general that the governor be authorized to officially set the date. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall filed the request in February, writing at the time that the state “is prepared to carry out Miller’s sentence by means of nitrogen hypoxia” and adding: ” it is once again the appropriate time for execution. of his pain. »

Miller, 59, has been on Alabama’s death row for decades, since a jury convicted him of killing three people in August 1999 and recommended in a vote that he be executed for these crimes. While working as a delivery truck driver for a company called Ferguson’s Enterprises in Pelham, Alabama, near Birmingham, authorities said Miller shot and killed two of his co-workers, Christopher Yancy and Lee Holdbrooks, in the building of the company. He then shot and killed another man, Terry Jarvis, in another location in the same city.

Officials escort murder suspect Alan Eugene Miller away from the Pelham City Jail in Alabama, August 5, 1999.

Dave Martin/AP

Witnesses recalled afterward that Miller accused the three men of “starting rumors” about him before shooting each of them multiple times, according to court documents. The descriptions of the murders contained in these documents are gruesome and disturbing, and the court ultimately concluded during Miller’s trial that his crimes were particularly heinous.

Alabama already has attempted to execute Miller. His execution in 2022 was halted due to time problems and difficulty accessing his veins.

Miller was one of four death row inmates in the state whose lethal injections were botched or interrupted in the past four years. Incidents inside the execution chamber have called into question Alabama’s ability to carry out executions. Faced with a shortage of lethal injections available for capital punishment, the state turned to nitrogen hypoxia as another potential option.

Even though it was not Smith’s decision to die by nitrogen gas, Miller chose this method of execution for himself and in fact fought for this choice in court. Before the failed lethal injection attempt in 2022, a federal judge issued an injunction blocking Alabama from carrying out Miller’s execution after the inmate filed a lawsuit claiming he chose hypoxia to nitrogen as the preferred way to die, but that the state had lost its documents. .

The justices, in a later ruling, lifted that injunction, and the state attempted to execute Miller shortly thereafter. Alabama prison officials said they had no record of the documents and suggested Miller was seeking to delay his sentence. Alabama death row inmates were given a deadline to choose to die by nitrogen hypoxia after the state authorized this method of execution in 2018.

Critics of nitrogen hypoxia point out its potential to cause unnecessary harm to convicts and even endanger others in the chamber.

Before Smith’s nitrogen execution in January, advocates in the United States and abroad spoke out against the Alabama prison system for allowing the use of an untested method, the top UN human rights chief even going so far as to say that nitrogen asphyxiation “could amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under international law of human rights.

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