Alabama carries out execution of Jamie Mills for 2004 killings

Alabama carried out the execution of death row inmate Jamie Ray Mills on Thursday, making it the first execution in the state since Kenneth Smith was put to death using nitrogen hypoxia in January.

Mills, who was 50 years old, was declared deceased at 6:26 p.m. local time following a three-drug injection at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in southwest Alabama, according to a statement from the state’s Department of Corrections. Alabama primarily utilizes lethal injection as its standard method of execution, unless a prisoner specifically requests nitrogen gas or the electric chair to carry out their death sentence.

Mills faced charges of capital murder for the brutal slaying of an elderly couple at their residence in northwestern Alabama back in 2004. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey granted a 30-hour timeframe for the execution to occur, starting from 12 a.m. Thursday until 6 a.m. Friday. However, the Alabama Department of Corrections anticipated that the execution would commence at approximately 6 p.m. local time on Thursday.

According to the department’s statement, on May 29, 2024, Mills received 6 visitors and had 6 phone calls. The following day, May 30, 2024, he had 6 visitors and no phone calls. He also accepted his breakfast tray and enjoyed a final meal consisting of seafood.

In a statement released earlier in May, both Ivey and Corrections Commissioner John Hamm acknowledged the potential for changes in the plans for Mills’ execution, depending on the outcome of the necessary legal proceedings.

Authorities discovered the Hills’ money and prescription drugs in Howe’s possession when they arrested him as a suspect. Shortly after, Jamie and JoAnn Mills were also arrested when the murder weapons were found in the trunk of their car. Attorneys for Mills have argued that there is little concrete evidence linking him to the crime, despite DNA evidence from the tools matching one of the victims. During the trial, Mills’ wife provided testimony that strongly supported the prosecution’s case.

According to court filings, JoAnn Mills initially proposed to authorities that Howe had placed the murder weapons in the trunk of her and her husband’s car to frame them for the killing of the Hills. However, as the prosecution aimed to convict Jamie Mills for the crimes, JoAnn Mills eventually became the prosecution’s crucial witness. The subsequent controversy centered around the circumstances leading to this change, raising questions about the fairness of Mills’ conviction and death penalty sentence.

During the trial, former Marion County District Attorney William Bostick testified that JoAnn Mills had not been given any incentives to testify against her husband and accuse him of the murders. When Jamie Mills’ defense counsel directly asked the prosecutor if any form of inducement existed that may have influenced his wife’s testimony, Bostick consistently denied it. JoAnn Mills was ultimately convicted in the Hills’ murders and received a life sentence with the chance of parole, as Alabama dropped the capital murder charges against her.

It was later revealed that her lawyer, Tony Glenn, had stated in an official affidavit that he had met with the district attorney and the Hills’ family members to negotiate a deal. The agreement entailed that the state would refrain from seeking the death penalty against her if she agreed to testify against her husband. Consequently, Mills submitted a motion in April, urging the court to reconsider his appeal and grant a temporary suspension of his execution. Throughout, he consistently professed his innocence in the murders of the Hills.

According to Judge Nancy G. Abudu of the Eleventh Circuit, she stated in the court’s recent opinion that Glenn, the victim’s daughter, had agreed not to oppose the State’s offer of a plea deal to JoAnn before Mills’ trial. In return, the district attorney agreed not to pursue the death penalty against JoAnn, under the condition that she testified truthfully at Mills’ trial.

Abudu upheld the state’s ruling, rejecting Mills’ appeal and allowing the execution to proceed. Mills then submitted a separate petition to the United States Supreme Court, seeking a review of the decision and a reconsideration of the stay.

In his appeal filed in April, Mills expressed apprehension about the execution process, considering Alabama’s correctional system’s track record of mishandling lethal injections for death row inmates. This concern was well-founded, as earlier this year, Smith became the first inmate in the United States to be executed using nitrogen hypoxia after surviving a failed lethal injection attempt in Alabama in 2022.

According to the judge’s opinion, Mills has a genuine concern that he may be placed on the execution gurney without the necessary IV access or while officials are transporting witnesses to the viewing area. He fears that he will not be provided with any updates on the status of his cases or the ongoing execution protocol. However, the State has assured the court that if Mills is granted a stay while on the execution gurney, he will be returned to a holding cell. Additionally, the State has taken measures to expedite the preparation process, ensuring that witnesses are transported to the viewing area promptly to minimize delays.

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