Appeals continue as Alabama prepares to execute Jamie Ray Mills

A man in a prison jumpsuit.
A man in a prison jumpsuit.

Jamie Mills was sentenced to death for the 2004 murders of Fred and Vera Hill. (Alabama Department of Corrections)

Alabama is set to carry out its second execution of 2024 later this week, though the legal process continues to move forward.

Jamie Ray Mills is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection between midnight Thursday and 6 a.m. Friday morning for the 2004 double murder of Floyd and Vera Hill.  A federal court last week rejected his request for a stay of execution for alleging his execution violates his constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment as well as his right to due process.

U.S. District Judge Emily Marks on May 21 ruled against Mills and admonished Mills and his attorneys for not filing the claims in a timely enough manner.

“The practice of filing lawsuits and requests for stay of execution at the last minute where the facts were known well in advance is ineffective, unworkable, and must stop,” Marks wrote in her order. “The unique circumstances of execution litigation and the attendant deadlines are precisely why such litigation should be filed at the earliest possible opportunity: to ensure that courts at all levels have as much time as possible to review the case and make a reasoned decision.”

Mills’ attorneys have filed a notice of appeal with the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

According to court records, Mills and his common-law spouse entered Floyd and Vera Hills’ residence in Guin in 2004 under the pretext of making a call before beating the couple with a hammer and robbing them.

A jury convicted Mills in 2007 and sentenced him to death by a vote of 11-1. His appeals in both state and federal courts were denied.

Gov. Kay Ivey set Mills’ execution date in March. The governor’s scheduled execution date then set off another round of lawsuits from Mills seeking to at least delay his death sentence.

The state Supreme Court’s decision set off another round of lawsuits by Mills hoping to at least delay his execution. At the beginning of April, his attorneys working at the Equal Justice Initiative filed motions to have his case reopened, but Mills lost those motions in state and federal court.

That lawsuit is ongoing and is also awaiting appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Mills argues that Alabama’s lethal injection protocol will require him to be restrained for a long time on a gurney, which he said  will cause “unnecessary and wanton pain and suffering,” violating his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.

The lawsuit cites the state’s attempts in 2022 to execute Joe Nathan James, Alan Miller and Kenneth Eugene Smith, all who had remained strapped to the gurney for hours because Corrections failed to find a vein to carry out the execution. James was eventually executed in July 2022, but not before he spent over two-and-a-half hours strapped to a gurney before getting put to death.

Alan Miller, whose execution by nitrogen gas is scheduled for later this year, was strapped to the gurney for almost two hours before his execution was called off because the warrant had expired.

Smith, executed by nitrogen gas in January, remained strapped to the gurney for more than three hours during his scheduled execution in November 2022 before it was called off.

Both Miller and Smith spoke of trauma they endured as they were immobilized on the gurney awaiting their executions.

Mills also argued that a Corrections rule prohibiting his attorneys from remaining in the execution chamber with him violates his due process rights, and unconstitutionally restricts his access to the courts and legal counsel.

Marks noted in her ruling that Mills’ request for a preliminary injunction was filed two years after the U.S. Supreme Court denied his request to review his first appeal request, 21 months after Joe Nathan James was executed, 18 months after Alan Miller’s failed execution and 15 months after the failed execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith.

People on death row have a high threshold to prove to succeed on a claim against cruel and unusual punishment. The execution is allowed to be painful. It only becomes a violation if the method creates pain beyond what is needed.

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