Alan Eugene Miller was set to be executed by lethal injection after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier Thursday overturned a lower court injunction in a long-running dispute over whether Miller would die by this method or by nitrogen hypoxia, an untested and unproven method. Alabama officials had said they weren’t ready for the job.
“Due to time constraints resulting from the delay in the court proceedings, the execution was canceled once it was determined that the condemned man’s veins could not be viewed in accordance with our protocol before the expiry of the death warrant,” the Alabama Department of Corrections said. Commissioner John Hamm, according to AL.com.
Miller was returned to his cell on death row, Hamm said. Governor Kay Ivey “expects the execution to be reset as soon as possible,” her office said in a statement.
Hamm met with the families of the victims to inform them of the cancellation before meeting with the press, Ivey said in a statement obtained by CNN.
“Despite the circumstances that led to the annulment of this execution, nothing will change the fact that a jury heard the evidence in this case and made a decision. It does not change the fact that Mr. Miller never challenged his crimes doesn’t change the fact that three families are still grieving,” Ivey said.
Untested execution method in question
The failed execution attempt followed weeks of legal battles between the state and Miller’s lawyers over the method by which he would die – a fight that ultimately ended in the Supreme Court.
The inmate had sued the commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, the state attorney general and his director, alleging that corrections officials were preparing to execute him by lethal injection after he lost documents in which he claimed to have chosen to die by nitrogen hypoxia.
Failure to comply with his request, according to Miller’s complaint, violated his constitutional rights.
State officials — who suggested Miller made no such choice and had no record of his preference — said in court papers they weren’t prepared to use the nitrogen hypoxia, which Alabama approved as an alternative execution method in 2018.
The department had “completed many of the preparations necessary to conduct nitrogen hypoxia executions,” but its protocol was “not yet complete,” he told CNN last week in a statement. “Once the nitrogen hypoxia protocol is complete, (ward) personnel will need sufficient time to be fully trained before an execution can be performed using this method.”
SCOTUS cancels the injunction stopping the execution
State officials appealed the district court judge’s order, asking the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to allow it to continue Miller’s execution by lethal injection.
The Eleventh Circuit upheld the lower court’s order, writing in a 32-page ruling that the district court found it was “essentially likely that Mr. Miller submitted an election form in a timely manner, even if the state claims he has no physical record of any form.”
But critics and experts reject these arguments, saying there is no evidence that executions by nitrogen hypoxia adhere to the constitutional protection of prisoners from cruel and unusual punishment, because it has never been used and could never be ethically tested.
But inmates like Miller are opting for the unproven method due to concerns about the level of pain they might experience from the lethal injection, Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center told CNN. : “They opt for a method which they hope will not be torturous for a method which they are certain will be torturous.”
Ariane of CNN’s Vogue contributed to this report.