Botched execution attempt: Alabama inmate endured needle torture, attorney says

Published 9:41 pm Tuesday, October 11, 2022

An Alabama inmate said prison staff poked him with needles for over an hour as they tried to find a vein during an aborted lethal injection last month. At one point, they left him hanging vertically on a gurney before state officials made the decision to call off the execution.

Attorneys for 57-year-old Alan Eugene Miller wrote about his experience during Alabama’s Sept. 22 execution attempt in a court filing made last week. Miller’s attorneys are trying to block the state from attempting a second lethal injection.

Two men in scrubs used needles to repeatedly probe Miller’s arms, legs, feet and hands, at one point using a cell phone flashlight to help their search for a vein, according to the Oct. 6 court filing. The attorneys called Miller the “only living execution survivor in the United States” and said Alabama subjected Miller “to precisely the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain that the Eighth Amendment was intended to prohibit.”

Alabama has asked the state Supreme Court to set a new execution date for Miller, saying the execution was canceled only because of a time issue as the state faced a midnight deadline to get the lethal injection underway.

“Despite this failed execution, the physical and mental torture it inflicted upon Mr. Miller, and the fact that Defendants have now botched three lethal injection executions in just four years, Defendants relentlessly seek to execute Mr. Miller again—presumably by lethal injection,” attorneys for Miller wrote, referencing an execution that was canceled and another that took three hours to get underway.

“What then, in Defendants’ view, is a constitutional amount of time to spend stabbing someone with needles in an attempt to kill them?” his attorneys wrote.

The 351-pound (159-kilogram) inmate testified in an earlier court hearing that medical workers always have difficulty accessing his veins, and that is why he wanted to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia, a newly approved execution method that the state has yet to try.

Miller said he was led into the execution chamber at 10 p.m., about an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted an injunction that had been blocking the lethal injunction, and was strapped to the gurney at about 10:15 p.m.

After the two men used needles to probe various parts of his body for a vein, also using a phone flashlight to help, Miller told the men, “he could feel that they were not accessing his veins, but rather stabbing around his veins.” Later, a third man then began slapping his neck in an apparent attempt to look for a vein.

The three men in scrubs stopped their probing and left the chamber after there was a loud knock on a death chamber window from the state’s observation room, according to the court filing. A prison officer then raised the gurney to a vertical position. Miller said the wall clock read 11:40 p.m. and he estimated that he hung there for about 20 minutes before he was let down and told that his execution was cancelled for the evening.

“Mr. Miller felt nauseous, disoriented, confused, and fearful about whether he was about to be killed, and was deeply disturbed by his view of state employees silently staring at him from the observation room while he was hanging vertically from the gurney. Blood was leaking from some of Mr. Miller’s wounds,” the motion stated.

Miller was sentenced to death after being convicted of a 1999 workplace rampage in which he killed Terry Jarvis, Lee Holdbrooks and Scott Yancy.

“Due to the lateness of the hour, the Alabama Department of Corrections was limited in the number of attempts to gain intravenous access it could make. ADOC made the decision to halt its efforts to obtain IV access at approximately 11:30 p.m., resulting in the expiration of the court’s execution warrant,” the state attorney general’s office wrote in the request for a new date.

This is at least the third time Alabama has acknowledged problems with vein access during a lethal injection. The state’s July execution of Joe Nathan James took more than three hours to get underway. Alabama called off the 2018 execution of Doyle Hamm after being unable to establish an intravenous line.