Alabama Supreme Court clears nitrogen gas execution for death row inmate who survived a previous lethal injection

 May 3, 2024

A man on death row who survived a previous execution attempt will receive execution by nitrogen gas, the Washington Examiner reported. The Alabama Supreme Court authorized the method in a decision Thursday.

Gov. Kay Ivey (R-AL) has not set the date for Alan Eugene Miller's execution. Once it's carried out, Miller will become the second death row inmate to die by nitrogen gas in the state, which is controversial among liberal death penalty opponents.

After being convicted of killing three men during a 1999 workplace shooting, Miller was set to die by lethal injection. However, the drug cocktail administered to Miller did not succeed in taking his life.

Attorneys for the condemned man echoed liberal opinions that the failed attempt was "precisely the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain that the Eighth Amendment was intended to prohibit." The state is attempting to finish the job with the new method that has many up in arms.

A Novel Way To Die

The attorney general's office petitioned the court to allow for the new method for Miller's execution. He has a pending lawsuit against the method due to the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The first man to die by nitrogen gas was Kenneth Smith, who was executed in January. Witnesses reported that Smith "thrashed violently on the gurney" and continued to breathe for several agonizing minutes before finally passing away.

Alabama Reporter Lee Hedpeth attended Smith's execution and noted that it was unlike others he'd witnessed. "I've been to four previous executions, and I've never seen a condemned inmate thrash in the way that Kenneth Smith reacted to the nitrogen gas," Hedgepeth said.

"Kenny just began to gasp for air repeatedly, and the execution took about 25 minutes total." Like Miller, Smith had also survived a previous execution attempt.

"Rather than address these failures, the State of Alabama has attempted to maintain secrecy and avoid public scrutiny, in part by misrepresenting what happened in this botched execution," Miller's attorneys said. The next attempt might be just as troublesome.

The Trouble With Lethal Injections

Executions used to be done through violent means such as firing squad, hanging, or the electric chair. The modern notion is that lethal injection is a more civilized and humane way to go about it.

Unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way in practice. A 2022 report by the Associated Press examined the myriad problems states are having with the method following the cases of Smith and Miller.

After introducing the method in Texas in 1982, lethal injection has run up against several problems over the years, "including difficulty finding usable veins, needles becoming disengaged or problems with the lethal chemicals." There's also a reluctance of medical professionals to assist in executions, which causes staffing problems and leads to further complications due to inexperienced staff.

"Requirements around training vary from state to state, and because a number of medical professionals are unwilling to be involved in executions, they're usually very minimal in terms of training. There are also protocols that are silent about what background the execution team must have," Ngozi Ndulue, the deputy director of the Death Penalty Information Center, pointed out.

Officials need to find the most humane ways to carry out these executions if the death penalty is to remain the law of the land in these states. A civil society may certainly employ the measure, but it must not mistreat the inmates who are to receive it.

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