June 13th, 2024

Months after nation’s 1st nitrogen gas execution, Alabama gives man lethal injection for 2 killings

By Kim Chandler, The Associated Press on May 30, 2024.

FILE - This undated photo released by the Alabama Department of Corrections shows Jamie Mills, who was convicted of bludgeoning an elderly couple to death 20 years ago to steal prescription drugs and $140 from their home. Alabama is set to execute Mills on Thursday evening, May 30, 2024. (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP, File)

ATMORE, Ala. (AP) – An Alabama man received a lethal injection Thursday for the killing of an elderly couple in 2004, the first inmate put to death by the state since it became the first in the nation to execute an inmate using nitrogen gas months ago.

Jamie Ray Mills, 50, was pronounced dead at 6:26 p.m. after a three-drug injection at the William C. Holman Correctional Faciilty in southwest Alabama, authorities said. Lethal injection remains Alabama’s default method of execution unless an inmate requests nitrogen gas or the electric chair to carry out the death sentence.

Mills was convicted of capital murder at trial in the killings of Floyd Hill, 87, and his wife Vera, 72. Prosecutors said the victims were attacked with a hammer, machete and a tire tool at their home in a small community about 80 miles (130 kilometers) northwest of Birmingham.

Hours earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court declined without comment to block Thursday’s execution.

Attorneys for Mills, who maintained his innocence at his 2007 trial, had argued that newly obtained evidence showed the prosecution lied about having a plea agreement with Mills’ wife to spare her from seeking the death penalty against her if she testified against her husband. They also argued Alabama has a history of problematic executions.

But Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office asked the justices to let the execution proceed, with the state writing there was much incriminating evidence against him.

Floyd Hill was the primary caregiver for his wife, who was diabetic and in poor health. He kept her medications in a tackle box in the couple’s kitchen. The Hills regularly held yard sales to supplement their income. When the couple’s granddaughter couldn’t reach them, responding officers arrived to find them in pools of blood in the backyard shed where they stored items for yard sales.

Floyd Hill died from blunt- and sharp-force wounds to the head and neck and Vera Hill died about 12 weeks later from complications of head trauma, the attorney general’s office wrote in a court filing.

At the time, Mills had recently quit a job as an auto mechanic at a gas station where his boss described him as a “hard worker.” He was over $10,000 behind in child support for his two sons, was upset over his parents’ failing health and had relapsed into drug use, according to court documents.

JoAnn Mills became the key witness against her common-law husband. She testified that after staying up all night smoking methamphetamine, her husband told her they were going to see a man about some money. Once at the home, she testified, she saw her husband repeatedly strike the couple in the backyard shed, according to court documents.

The jury in 2007 convicted Jamie Mills of capital murder and voted 11-1 for the death sentence, which a judge imposed. JoAnn Mills had also been charged with capital murder, but after testifying against her husband, she pleaded to a reduced charge of murder and received a life sentence with the possibility of parole. She remains incarcerated.

The final appeals before the U.S. Supreme Court focused on arguments that the prosecution failed to disclose a deal with JoAnn Mills and challenges to the state’s lethal injection protocol. JoAnn Mill’s trial attorney, Tony Glenn, wrote in a February affidavit that before the 2007 trial, he met with the district attorney, who agreed to let her plead guilty to a lesser charge if she testified. On the stand, JoAnn Mills said she was only hoping to gain “some forgiveness from God” by testifying.

The state argued that the district attorney and investigator maintained there was no plea deal. They also wrote that “copious inculpatory evidence” connected him to the crime, including murder weapons found in his trunk alongside his pants “covered in the blood of one of the victims.”

Mills’ attorneys argued the trunk was unlocked and that the items could have been put there by someone else. They noted the murder weapons had unidentified DNA on them.

On Jan. 25, Alabama executed inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith with nitrogen gas, putting him to death with a first-of-its-kind method that newly pushed the United States to the forefront of debate over capital punishment. The state said the method was humane, but critics called it cruel and experimental.

Smith was executed by breathing pure nitrogen gas through a face mask, causing oxygen deprivation. It marked the first time that a new execution method has been used in the U.S. since lethal injection, now the most commonly used method, was introduced in 1982. Smith was convicted in the 1988 murder-for-hire killing of a preacher’s wife, 45-year-old Elizabeth Sennett.

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