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Alabama may use untried nitrogen hypoxia in Alan Miller execution

FILE – Officials escort murder suspect Alan Eugene Miller away from the Pelham City Jail in Ala., on Aug. 5, 1999. Miller, scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection on Sept. 22, 2022, for a workplace shooting rampage in 1999 that killed three men, says the state lost the paperwork he turned in selecting an alternate execution method. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)

(NewsNation) — The state of Alabama may use an untried execution method later this month to carry out the death sentence of an inmate.

Deputy State Attorney General James Houts reportedly told U.S. District Judge Austin Huffaker, Jr. that it’s “very likely” the nitrogen hypoxia method could be available for the execution of Alan Eugene Miller.

Nitrogen hypoxia is expected to cause death by replacing oxygen with nitrogen. The theory behind the method is that changing an inmate’s air to 100 percent nitrogen would cause the inmate to pass out and die from a lack of oxygen.

Supporters of the method believe it would be more humane. It gained popularity in 2018 when then-Sen. Trip Pittman suggested it may be similar to how aircraft passengers pass out when a plane depressurizes.

Critics have equated the method to human experimentation, noting that no state has shared a structure of how it would actually work. Last year, an Alabama Department of Corrections representative told a judge it had completed a “system” to use the method but did not provide details to the public.

However, in a court hearing days ago, a lawyer for the state reportedly asked Miller if he would agree to be fitted for a mask. Miller declined, according to his attorney.

The untested method has been approved by Alabama, Oklahoma and Mississippi but has not been used by any state yet. Alabama authorized it in 2018, giving inmates at the time a short window to select it as their preferred execution method.

Miller is slated to die by lethal injection, Alabama’s primary execution method. He claims that in 2018, prison staff lost the paperwork he turned in requesting nitrogen hypoxia as his execution method. The state says there’s no way to verify Miller’s claim and accused him of trying to delay his upcoming execution.

FILE – This undated photograph provided by the Alabama Department of Corrections shows inmate Alan Eugene Miller, who was convicted of capital murder in a workplace shooting rampage that killed three men in 1999. Miller, scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection on Sept. 22, 2022, says the state lost the paperwork he turned in selecting an alternate execution method. (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP, File)

In court, Miller explained how he does not want to be stuck with a needle for his death. To him, nitrogen gas seemed like the nitrous oxide gas sometimes used at the dentist, which he believes would be a better way to go than lethal injection. Still, Miller’s lawyer said they don’t want him to be the test for the untried execution method.

Miller was convicted in Birmingham-area workplace shootings that left Lee Holdbrooks, Scott Yancy and Terry Jarvis dead in 1999. Authorities say Miller shot Holdbrooks and Yancey at one business and drove to a different place to shoot Jarvis.

According to reports, testimony showed that Miller believed the men were spreading rumors about him, including that he was gay. A psychiatrist in the trial determined that Miller suffered from severe mental illness but that it was not on a level that it could be used as a defense of insanity. 

Miller’s execution is set for Sept. 22. An Alabama deputy state attorney general insists a protocol for nitrogen hypoxia “is there.” The final decision of whether or not to use it is in the hands of the state’s corrections commissioner.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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