A federal judge has ordered the Alabama Department of Corrections to enable death row convict Alan Eugene Miller’s lawyers to examine him for injuries following Thursday’s botched execution.
On Thursday night, U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker issued an order requiring the DOC to preserve physical evidence from the execution attempt and conversations among DOC officials. In a motion submitted on Miller’s behalf Friday morning, his attorneys asked to be allowed visits.
The motion explained that the execution was halted because “defendants have openly confessed they had trouble reaching his veins during the process.” The injuries sustained by Mr. Miller during the attempted execution are visible and should be documented visually.
The Department of Corrections (DOC) uses lethal injection for executions. Thus its employees must locate veins in inmates to put IV lines. Doyle Lee Hamm, a death row convict, was poked for two and a half hours in the legs and crotch by officials in 2018. He eventually began bleeding on the gurney. The death penalty against Hamm stayed.
This article examines the controversial past and present of Alabama’s execution procedures.
According to an August article in The Atlantic, severe wounds consistent with an effort to implant an IV line were found during the autopsy of Joe Nathan James Jr., who was killed in July. According to the magazine’s reporting, James’s arm bore a mark that suggested an attempt had been made to hack up his skin to expose a vein.
Miller, now 57 years old, is on death row for the 1999 shooting deaths of Lee Holdbrooks, Scott Yancy, and Terry Jarvis at their place of employment. Miller claimed that the state misplaced the document he filled out in 2018 indicating his preference to be killed by nitrogen hypoxia, a new method of execution developed by the state. After the fact, several convicts on death row have described the procedure to select nitrogen hypoxia as haphazard and hurried.
Early this week, Huffaker concluded that Miller’s testimony appeared believable and prohibited Miller’s execution by any means other than nitrogen hypoxia. The state of Alabama filed an appeal, saying Miller was trying to buy time before his execution. On Thursday afternoon, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit sustained the stay. Still, on Thursday evening, a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court reversed that judgment, permitting Miller to be killed by lethal injection. Nobody gave their two cents, not even the majority or the minority.
After the Supreme Court’s verdict, reporters who had been transported to Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore abruptly turned around later that evening and returned to the media center. Staff had trouble finding veins to inject the needle, and DOC Commissioner John Hamm subsequently told reporters that they were concerned they wouldn’t be able to do it before Miller’s death warrant expired at midnight.
In a statement, Hamm explained that the execution was canceled because “it was found that the condemned’s veins could not be accessible following our procedure before the end of the deadline,” a result of the lateness of the court proceedings.
Following Huffaker’s order, Miller’s lawyers will be able to meet with him on Friday from 4 to 6 p.m.6 and again on Saturday morning from 7 to 9 a.m.9. Addition; the judge mandated that DOC keep any “notes, emails, messages, and used medical supplies including syringes, swabs, scalpels, and IV lines.”
In 2002, Atmore, Alabama’s Holman Correctional Facility, opened its execution chamber.
In Addition, the order instructs DOC staff to “save any notes, emails, and texts concerning the execution, including those made and exchanged before (beginning at 6 pm, six-member 22, 2022), during, and after the attempted execution.”
One month ago, the Montgomery Advertiser submitted open records request seeking information on communications inside the DOC and between the DOC and the Attorney General’s office on the day of James’ execution on July 28. The DOC denied access to the data because they were exempt from disclosure.
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