After Rollercoaster Day, SCOTUS Says Alabama Can Execute Man

A second court blocked the execution before high court said it can proceed
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 20, 2022 12:40 AM CDT
Updated Sep 22, 2022 11:02 PM CDT
Judge Blocks Alabama Execution
This undated photograph provided by the Alabama Department of Corrections shows inmate Alan Eugene Miller, who was convicted of capital murder in a workplace shooting rampage that killed three men in 1999.   (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP, File)

Update: A divided US Supreme Court said Alabama can proceed Thursday night with the lethal injection of an inmate convicted in a 1999 workplace shooting, vacating two lower court rulings that sided with the condemned man and his request for a different method of execution. The 5-4 decision reversed rulings by the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals and a federal judge that the lethal injection could not go forward after Alan Miller's attorneys said the state lost his paperwork requesting his execution be carried out using nitrogen hypoxia, a method legally available to him but one never used before in the US. Supreme Court justices lifted the stay at about 9pm, giving the state a three-hour window to get the execution underway before the death warrant expires at midnight, the AP reports. CBS 42 has live updates here. Our original story from Tuesday follows:

A federal judge on Monday blocked Alabama from executing an inmate who says the state lost his paperwork requesting an alternative to lethal injection, the AP reports. US District Judge R. Austin Huffaker, Jr. issued a preliminary injunction to block the state from executing Alan Miller on Thursday by any method other than nitrogen hypoxia, an untested method Miller says he requested but Alabama is not ready to use. Miller was sentenced to die after being convicted of killing three people in a 1999 workplace shooting. “Miller will likely suffer irreparable injury if an injunction does not issue because he will be deprived of the ability to die by the method he chose and instead will be forced to die by a method he sought to avoid and which he asserts will be painful,” Huffaker wrote. The injury will be, “the loss of his ‘final dignity’—to choose how he will die,” the judge added.

The ruling blocks Alabama from carrying out the lethal injection that had been set for Thursday. However, the state might appeal the decision. The Alabama attorney general’s office did not immediately return an email seeking comment. Nitrogen hypoxia is a proposed execution method in which death would be caused by forcing the inmate to breathe only nitrogen, thereby depriving him or her of the oxygen needed to maintain bodily functions. Nitrogen hypoxia has been authorized by Alabama and two other states for executions but has never used by a state to try to put an inmate to death. When Alabama approved nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative execution method in 2018, state law gave inmates a brief window to designate it as their execution method.

Miller testified last week that he returned a state form selecting nitrogen on the same day it was distributed to inmates by a prison worker. He said he left it in the slot of his cell door for a prison worker to collect, but did not see who picked it up. Alabama prison officials say they have no record of Miller returning the form, and argued that Miller is just trying to delay his execution. Huffaker wrote that he can't rule out the possibility that Miller is lying about selecting nitrogen in order to delay his looming execution, but said his testimony was credible. “It is substantially likely that Miller timely elected nitrogen hypoxia," the judge wrote. The judge noted the possibility that Alabama might soon be able to use nitrogen. “From all that appears, the State intends to announce its readiness to conduct executions by nitrogen hypoxia in the upcoming weeks,” the judge wrote.

(Read more execution stories.)

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