The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Alabama could kill a death row inmate by lethal injection, despite its claim that the state had lost its request to be killed by nitrogen hypoxia, a method of asphyxiation.
The inmate, Alan Eugene Miller, who was convicted in 1999 of the murder of three men, was said to die after the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 order without explanation that his execution should not be blocked. Judge Amy Comey Barrett joined the three liberal members of the court who disagreed and said the legal battle over Mr Miller’s method of execution should be played out.
For several hours on Thursday night, it appeared that Mr Miller, 57, would be executed by lethal injection, the method he had wanted to avoid. But early Friday morning local journalists reported that the prison commissioner said the state could not have killed Mr Miller before the midnight TAUT.
Mr. Miller was convicted of killing three men on August 5, 1999 at two Alabama companies where he had worked, a plumbing company and a warehouse selling oxygen cylinders.
In 2018, Alabama passed a law allowing death row inmates to choose to be killed by the untested method of nitrogen hypoxia, in which a person is fatally deprived of oxygen, in part because the state was having trouble obtaining drugs for lethal injections. Mr Miller said he signed a form choosing to be killed that way because of a fear of needles, but the state said the request had not been registered.
A federal judge had halted the execution after the Alabama prison chief said the state would not be ready Thursday to execute Miller through nitrogen hypoxia. The judge ruled that it was highly likely that Mr. Miller had completed the form and that prison officials, who had no formal system for recording inmates’ responses, had misplaced it. An appeals court upheld that decision Thursday, but it was overturned by the Supreme Court later that evening.
Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit that collects data on executions, said the Supreme Court had compromised its credibility by saying the execution could take place.
“Today is another clear example that, when it comes to executions, it is the outcome that counts in this court, whether it is legal or not,” said Mr Dunham. “That is not what a neutral arbitrator of the law does. That is not what a legitimate court does.”
Alabama is one of the states that has sought new execution methods as political pressure on pharmaceutical groups has made it more difficult for states to obtain lethal injection drugs.
South Carolina planned to kill a prisoner by firing squad until a judge this month ruled the method unconstitutional. In Oklahoma, in 2018, after a series of failed lethal injections, the state’s attorney general said it would pursue the use of nitrogen gas in executions; but it has since used only lethal injections, killing five inmates with the method since last year.
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