Nitrogen hypoxia was the execution method Alan Eugene Miller says he selected, leading to a legal debate that lasted until minutes before his death warrant was set to expire. The legal battle reached the U.S. Supreme Court, and his execution was delayed again.
Miller was set to be executed tonight, September 22, 2022, after a U.S. Supreme Court decision came shortly before a midnight deadline. Miller had asked to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia, a move the state would not allow, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. Read more about the legal battle here and read about Miller’s last meal and final hours before the delay here.
The delay occurred because of “issues accessing Miller’s veins,” CBS 42 reporter Lee Hedgepeth wrote on Twitter from a press conference. Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Hamm addressed the media briefly outside the prison at about 12:30 a.m. An ambulance was also seen leaving the prison, reporters wrote on Twitter from the scene.
“Miller is alive, back in his cell. The state had issues establishing IV access with Miller, per ADOC commissioner,” Montgomery Advertiser reporter Evan Mealins wrote on Twitter.
Miller was convicted of killing Christopher Yancy, Lee Holdbrooks and Terry Jarvis in 1999, according to WTRF.
Here’s what you need to know:
Oklahoma Was the First State to Allow Execution By Nitrogen Hypoxia
In March 2018, Oklahoma became the first state to use nitrogen hypoxia executions, also known as death by nitrogen inhalation, according to Oklahoma Watch. The article spelled out in graphic detail how nitrogen hypoxia execution happens, if all goes according to plan.
Oklahoma Watch reported:
The condemned man enters the room where he will draw his last breath.
He will be restrained in some way, perhaps strapped to the T-shaped platform where other offenders have been executed by injection.
He may have taken a sedative or will be given one in the room. But he likely won’t be too groggy.
The prisoner may then have a mask or a plastic hood or bag strapped to his face. Colorless, odorless nitrogen gas will stream into the mask from a tank similar to those used to inflate helium balloons. The gas could come from any one of thousands of distributors or manufacturers nationwide.
If all goes according to plan, the man will be dead within minutes, oblivious to the fact that his blood-oxygen level is plummeting and he will soon pass out.
The execution method quickly became the subject of controversy, with questions over how the condemned inmates would be forced to inhale the lethal gas, what would happen if they resisted or held their breath, and how to keep others in the area safe from the toxic fumes, according to Oklahoma Watch.
Miller Said He Wanted to Be Executed By Nitrogen Inhalation Because He Is Scared of Needles
Miller, 57, says he requested to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia in 2018 because of a fear of needles, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. He had employment experience working with chemicals, he said, according to the newspaper. However, state officials said they had no record Miller made the election to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia, the Montgomery Advertiser reported. He accused state officials of losing the paperwork he said he submitted through prison staff, according to the newspaper.
The subject became a matter of legal debate after the state said it would not execute Miller with nitrogen hypoxia.
“Miller’s execution by lethal injection had been blocked by a federal court injunction earlier this week, but lawyers for the state successfully appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which provided no written reasons for its decision to allow the execution to move forward,” WTRF reported.
Alabama approved the execution method in 2018, but it has not been used in the state. In Miller’s case, the Alabama Department of Corrections said it was not ready to use the untried method, according to NPR.
Nitrogen is safe to breathe when mixed with suitable amounts of oxygen, and makes up about 78% of the air we inhale, according to NPR. Breathing becomes difficult when oxygen levels drop below 16%, according to NPR. Once oxygen levels drop between 4 and 6%, a person can fall into a coma in 40 seconds.
Miller has been in prison at Holman on death row for more than 22 years, according to his inmate record from the Alabama Department of Corrections. He is kept in close custody, the DOC reported.
Here is his inmate record:
Miller was sent to Holman, the prison that houses the state’s death row, in 2000. He was sent from the committing county of Shelby, his inmate record says.
Just before 9:30 p.m., the state attorney general’s office told the Alabama Department of Corrections it could proceed with the execution, according to WTRF.
“It’s a go,” a spokesperson told the news outlet.
But as the minutes ticked down to midnight, reporters who were on the list to witness the execution said there had been another delay.
“NEW: We are back on the [van.] We were never let into the prison,” Montgomery Advertiser Reporter Evan Mealins wrote on Twitter at 11:46 p.m. “State may have abandoned the execution but we are waiting for confirmation.”
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