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Alabama halts execution of Alan Miller over inability to access veins for injection

Alan Eugene Miller, 57, was scheduled to be executed Thursday night by lethal injection. Picture courtesy Alabama Department of Corrections/<a href="http://www.doc.state.al.us/InmateHistory">Website</a>
Alan Eugene Miller, 57, was scheduled to be executed Thursday night by lethal injection. Picture courtesy Alabama Department of Corrections/Website

Sept. 23 (UPI) -- Alabama called off the execution of Alan Eugene Miller shortly before midnight Friday when his death warrant expired due to issues with administrating the lethal injection.

The setback came hours after a divided Supreme Court ruled that the state may proceed with its scheduled execution of Miller by lethal injection after a lower court had sided with the death row inmate that he could only be put to death by nitrogen hypoxia.

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John Hamm, the Alabama Department of Corrections commissioner, told reporters that the execution was called off at about 11:30 p.m. as they were unable to access Miller's veins within protocol time limits to inject the three-drug cocktail.

"Due to the time constraints resulting in the lateness of the court proceedings, the execution was called off once it was determined the condemned's veins could not be accessed in accordance with our protocol before the expiration of the death warrant," he said.

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Gov. Kay Ivey in a statement Friday morning said the complication does not deter the state's commitment to law, order and upholding justice.

"Despite the circumstances that led to the cancellation of this execution, nothing will change the fact that a jury heard the evidence of this case and made a decision. It does not change the fact that Mr. Miller never disputed his crimes. And it does not change the fact that three families still grieve," she said.

Miller was convicted of killing three people on Aug. 5, 1999.

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During his trial, prosecutors said the truck driver had shot dead two people at a Pelham heating and air-conditioning distributor where he was employed before driving five miles to a specialty gas distributor that had laid him off months earlier where he shot a third person dead.

The jury deliberated for 21 minutes during his 2000 trial before convicting Miller on all three charges of capital murder.

The announcement came hours after a divided Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to vacate a decision by a federal judge that had stopped Miller's execution on the grounds that it would violate his constitutional right to die by nitrogen hypoxia, which is a method of execution that deprives the brain of oxygen by forcing inmates to breath only nitrogen.

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Miller's lawyers had argued that their client had elected to die by nitrogen hypoxia in 2018 under a law that allowed inmates to choose to be executed by the alternative method.

The Alabama Department of Corrections had argued in court that it had no record of Miller's request, and that if enjoined from executing Miller by lethal injection that it was "very likely" it would be unable to carry out the inmate's sentence by nitrogen hypoxia on the scheduled date.

No opinion from the justices was given on their decision to vacate the injunction.

Conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined her liberal colleagues Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson in stating they would have denied the state's application to vacate the injunction.

The decision comes after Judge Austin Huffaker Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, Northern Division, ruled Monday that "Miller has established his entitlement to a preliminary injunction that prevents the State from executing him by any method other than nitrogen hypoxia."

Huffaker, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, found during litigation that Miller had presented "consistent, credible and uncontroverted direct evidence" that he had submitted his decision to die by the untried method in writing due to "his single-minded focus on avoiding contact with needles."

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According to Huffaker's ruling, Miller told the court that he had prior negative experiences at William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Ala., where he was being held.

During the trial, Miller said someone at Holman had "struggled to insert a needle into his arm, causing him to be poked and prodded in an experience he described as 'painful' and 'feeling like a pin cushion' and that left him with a large bruise that lasted several days,"Huffaker wrote in his ruling..

On the other hand, Alabama only presented the court with "inconsistent information" while being unable to state when it would be able to carry out the execution by nitrogen hypoxia, Huffaker said.

The state then appealed Huffaker's decision with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which sided with the lower court and ruled it did not abuse its discretion by granting the injunction.

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