Alabama’s cruel and unusual attempt to kill Alan Miller


It appears that for the second time in two months, Alabama corrections officials botched an execution with their rushed attempt to kill Alan Miller last Thursday night. The U.S. Supreme Court had lifted an injunction staying Miller’s execution, giving the execution team about three hours to find a vein for their lethal injection drugs. They failed and were forced to abandon the killing because the death warrant was expiring.

What happened in the execution chamber in those hours isn’t yet known. The media and witnesses were kept in a separate waiting room with no information during Miller’s ordeal. We know he was taken from the execution chamber and returned to his cell around midnight. And Friday morning, his lawyers filed a motion asking that they be given access to Miller and be permitted to document the injuries inflicted on him the night before with photos and videos. 

District Judge R. Austin Huffaker, Jr., who had issued the injunction staying Miller’s execution that SCOTUS later vacated, immediately granted the motion. He ordered the corrections department and any contractors or medical personnel involved in the attempted execution “to locate and preserve all evidence” related to the botched procedure. And he allowed lawyers to take still photographs and videos with their cell phones, bring “evidence stickers and rulers,” and retain a doctor to examine Miller and document those findings. 

Two months ago, Joe Nathan James, Jr., was similarly tortured before finally being killed by the corrections team. A private autopsy revealed he died a “long death.” In her Atlantic article, Elizabeth Bruenig provided a harrowing account of how the execution team’s several attempts to insert catheters into James’s hands and arms caused severe pain, in what the physician who conducted the autopsy said was “further evidence that the IV team was unqualified for the task in a most dramatic way.”

And in 2018, Doyle Lee Hamm was subjected to a horrific ordeal that his lawyer, Bernard Harcourt, described as torture. It was finally called off after three hours. In the aftermath, Harcourt filed a civil rights suit, and the state entered into a confidential settlement with Hamm, “preventing any further execution attempts.” If only the state had agreed to abolish its death penalty after that tragic proceeding, the barbarity would have ended there.

Instead, as Harcourt commented in an email, it was “utterly unconscionable what they did to everyone last night, utterly unconscionable.” And he told the Washington Post, “What it demonstrates is we really shouldn’t be giving these incompetent bureaucrats the power over life and death.”

(Update: Shockingly, “these incompetent bureaucrats” have apparently decided they won’t stop killing people regardless of how much pain they inflict. On Friday, the state Supreme Court set Thursday, November 17, for Kenneth Smith to be killed. In 1996, the jury in Smith’s case recommended 11-1 that he be sentenced to life without parole for the 1988 murder of Elizabeth Sennett, but the trial judge overruled the jury and sentenced him to death, reports. In 2017, Alabama modified its law to require a unanimous jury verdict to impose the death penalty but didn’t make the new law retroactive for prisoners already on death row.)


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