When the Supreme Court cleared the way for Alan Miller’s lethal injection on Thursday night, the triple-killer spent several hours believing he was about to die. But when the moment arrived, prison officials had difficulty accessing his veins and, with a midnight deadline looming, the decision was abruptly made to call the execution off.
Miller, 57, was sentenced to death for murdering three men in a workplace shooting rampage in 1999. The choice to halt proceedings and send Miller back to his cell at around 11:30 p.m. came just hours after judges had determined that the execution should proceed.
The Supreme Court overturned earlier decisions blocking the death sentence from being carried out over Miller’s request to be suffocated to death through nitrogen hypoxia—an as-yet untested method of execution that Alabama legalized in 2018. The state said it had no record of Miller ever making such a request, but Miller insists he signed a form asking to be killed by inhaling nitrogen gas because he is afraid of needles.
“Due to time constraints resulting from the lateness of the court proceedings, the execution was called off once it was determined the condemned inmate’s veins could not be accessed in accordance with our protocol before the expiration of the death warrant,” Alabama Corrections Commissioner John Hamm said, according to the Associated Press, adding that “accessing the veins was taking a little bit longer than we anticipated.”
In 1999, delivery truck driver Miller shot and killed his colleagues Lee Holdbrooks and Scott Yancy in Birmingham. He then drove to a business where he had previously worked and killed his former supervisor, Terry Jarvis. He was apprehended after a high-speed chase.
At trial, the court heard that Miller thought his victims were spreading rumors about him, including that he was gay. Although a psychiatrist concluded that Miller was delusional and had severe mental health problems, his condition was not sufficiently serious to warrant an insanity defense under state law.
“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,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement, adding that the victims’ families were still grieving. “We all know full well that Michael Holdbrooks, Terry Lee Jarvis, and Christopher Scott Yancy did not choose to die by bullets to the chest. Tonight, my prayers are with the victims’ families and loved ones as they are forced to continue reliving the pain of their loss.”
Despite the execution being given the go-ahead Thursday, critics questioned the Supreme Court’s 5-4 order. “Today is another clear example that, when it comes to executions, it’s the outcome that matters to this court, whether or not it’s legal,” Robert Dunham, executive director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, told The New York Times. “That’s not what a neutral arbiter of the law does. That’s not what a legitimate court does.”