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Alabama execution survivor reaches settlement with state

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MONTGOMERY, Ala — Alabama will not seek another lethal injection date for an inmate whose execution was halted in September over problems setting up an IV line, under the terms of a settlement agreement approved Monday.

The state agreed never again to use lethal injection as an execution method to kill Alan Eugene Miller. All future efforts to execute him will be by nitrogen hypoxia, a method of execution that is legal in Alabama but has never been used to carry out a death sentence in the United States. There is currently no protocol for the use of nitrogen hypoxia.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker Jr. approved the settlement agreement in a lawsuit filed by Miller to prevent another fatal injection attempt. Miller had argued that the state had lost documentation stating it chose nitrogen hypoxia as his method of execution and then tortured him during the failed execution attempt. At the time, Miller’s attorneys called him the “only living execution survivor in the United States.”

Miller was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on September 22, but the state called off the execution after failing to connect an IV line to the 351-pound inmate. Miller said that when prison staff tried to find a vein, they poked him with needles for over an hour and at one point had him hanging vertically as he was strapped to a gurney.

Alabama has admitted to IV problems in at least four executions since 2018. Three of them had to be stopped.

Earlier this month, the execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith was halted after the execution team tried to connect an IV line for an hour. Last week, Smith’s attorneys filed a lawsuit against the prison system, saying the state violated the US Constitution, various court orders and its own lethal injection protocol during the botched attempted execution earlier this month. Smith’s attorneys are asking a federal judge to bar the state from attempting a second execution, saying Smith was already “already subjected to escalating pain and torture” on the night of the failed execution.

Alabama also canceled the 2018 execution of Doyle Lee Hamm for the same reasons. He reached an agreement with the state that prevented further execution attempts, although he remained on death row. He later died of natural causes.

Prison officials blamed time restrictions, particularly the midnight deadline, for the three halted executions.

The state execution of Joe Nathan James in July went ahead, but only after a three-hour delay caused at least in part by the same problem with access to an IV line.

Last week, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced a pause in executions to review procedures. The Republican governor expressed concern for the families of the victims.

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

The settlement agreement likely prevents another execution attempt in the near future, since Alabama has not announced methods of using nitrogen hypoxia and there will be a legal battle over the humaneness of the method before any state attempts to use it.

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