U.S. 11th Circuit Court rejects Alabama death row inmate’s appeals

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)

Barring intervention from the U.S. Supreme Court, Alabama will carry out its second execution of 2024 on Thursday.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals late Tuesday denied appeals from Jamie Ray Mills, convicted and sentenced to death for the 2004 murder of Floyd and Vera Hill in Guin. The appeals court said it found no error in an district court ruling last week rejecting Mills’ appeal.

Mills is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection. The state in January executed Kenneth Eugene Smith by nitrogen gas.

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The continued executions in Alabama have concerned civil rights and humanitarian groups that have consistently opposed the state’s efforts to impose the death penalty, which includes thousands of individuals signing petitions that are hand delivered to the governor’s office requesting that she grant clemency.

“There is a lot of evidence that shows that the death penalty is applied arbitrarily and in a racially disproportionate manner,” said Mike Nicholson, a senior policy analyst with Alabama Arise. “Those things can be mitigated extensively with unanimous jury sentencing.”

According to court documents, in 2004 Mills and his common-law spouse JoAnn drove to the Hills’ location and entered the residence under the pretext that they wanted to make several phone calls.

Afterward, the four walked to the shed where the Hills stored items to sell as part of a yard sale. It was then that Mills beat Floyd Hill to the ground. The women returned to the shed, found Floyd on the ground. Mills then beat Vera on the back of the head with a hammer.

Mills stole items from the residence that netted him $140.

He was arrested in December 2004 and charged with three counts of capital murder: one count each for the individuals who were put to death, and another count because more than one person was killed during the course of a single conduct.

A jury convicted Mills in 2007, and later sentenced him to death on an 11-1 vote.The conviction to this point has been upheld by state and federal courts.

In late March Gov. Kay Ivey scheduled for Mills to be put to death between midnight Thursday and 6 a.m. Friday. This then prompted another round of appeals.

One suit alleges that the prosecution misled the court by not disclosing a plea deal made with JoAnn Mills in exchange for her testimony.

“We think this sort of concealment, this sort of dishonesty, is the very type of thing that needs to be explored, certainly before Jamie Mills should be executed,” said Angie Setzer, attorney with the Equal Justice Initiative, one of the attorneys representing Mills in the lawsuit.

Another individual allegedly joined Mills and his common-law spouse in committing the crime.

JoAnn Mills, who received a life sentence with the possibility of parole, told police in two different statements that she suspected another person had planted the weapons in their car and that he brought the stolen items to their home in the past.

According to Mills’ attorneys, the district attorney made a plea deal with JoAnn Mills that spared her the death penalty and made her eligible for parole in exchange for her testimony. The attorneys said this should have been disclosed to Mills’ defense team.

“They have never denied these meetings happened, and these meetings are directly contrary to the meetings that took place at Mr. Mills’ trial in which the DA asserted that JoAnn Mills was testifying without any hope of a promise of a plea deal,” Setzer said.

Testimony from the common-law spouse was a critical factor during the trial, and Setzer accused the district attorney of falsely claiming there was no plea deal with JoAnn Mills when, in fact, one was made.

The federal district court ruled against Mills in the case, saying Mills had filed the same claims before without evidence and that the new evidence uncovered was not filed in time and was not substantial enough to halt the execution.

Another lawsuit that attorneys filed on Mills’ behalf in federal district court alleging the lethal injection protocol was unconstitutional because he would be strapped to the gurney for hours and that he was denied access to counsel because his attorneys could not be in the chamber with him as he is about to be executed.

The federal district court ruled against him, stating that he did not file his claim in a timely enough manner. The judge also ruled that even if he had, Mills would not likely win on the merits of the case because the U.S. Constitution did not grant him a right to counsel and that strapping him to the gurney is part of the execution process and does not subject him to an unconstitutional level of pain.

Mills’ planned execution is the second of the year of four that are planned for the year. Aside from the Smith execution in January along with Mills, the state also plans to put Keith Edmund Gavin and Alan Eugene Miller to death.

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