Jamie Mills, convicted for 2004 murders, executed in Alabama

Alabama carried out the execution of 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, aged 50, met his demise at 6:26 p.m. local time following a three-drug injection administered at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in southwest Alabama. According to a statement from the state’s Department of Corrections, lethal injection continues to be the primary method of execution in Alabama, unless an inmate specifically requests nitrogen gas or the electric chair as an alternative means to carry out the death sentence.

Mills, who was found guilty of capital murder for the 2004 slaying of an elderly couple in northwestern Alabama, faced scheduled execution during a 30-hour window authorized by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey. The execution was slated to take place between 12 a.m. Thursday and 6 a.m. Friday, with officials estimating it would commence at approximately 6 p.m. local time on Thursday, as reported by the Alabama Department of Corrections.

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

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey and Corrections Commissioner John Hamm released a joint statement in May, acknowledging that the plans for Mills’ execution could be subject to change depending on the outcome of the necessary legal proceedings.

When Howe was finally arrested as a suspect, authorities found the Hills’ money and prescription drugs in his possession. Shortly after, Jamie and JoAnn Mills were also arrested when the murder weapons were discovered in the trunk of their car. Attorneys for Mills have argued in recent years that there is little concrete evidence linking him to the crime, with DNA lifted from the tools being the only significant match to one of the victims. However, during the trial, Mills’ wife provided testimony that strongly supported the prosecution’s case.

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According to court filings, JoAnn Mills initially proposed to authorities that Howe had deliberately placed the murder weapons in the trunk of her and her husband’s car, with the intention of framing them for the Hills’ murder. However, as the prosecution sought to convict Jamie Mills for the crimes, JoAnn Mills eventually became the key witness for the prosecution. The subsequent controversy surrounding the shift in her stance raised questions about the fairness of Mills’ conviction and his subsequent death penalty sentence.

During the trial, former Marion County District Attorney William Bostick stated on the stand 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 there was any inducement that may have influenced his wife’s testimony, Bostick consistently denied it. As a result, JoAnn Mills was found guilty of the Hills’ murders and received a life sentence with the chance for parole, while the capital murder charges against her were dropped by Alabama.

In a shocking revelation, it was later uncovered that her lawyer at the time, Tony Glenn, had disclosed in a sworn affidavit that he had met with the district attorney and the Hills’ family members to negotiate a deal. The deal entailed that the state would not seek the death penalty against her if she testified against her husband. This information came to light when Mills filed a motion in April, urging the court to reconsider his appeal and halt his execution. Throughout the ordeal, Mills consistently asserted his innocence in the murders of the Hills.

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In the court’s opinion this week, Judge Nancy G. Abudu of the Eleventh Circuit acknowledged that Glenn, in his testimony, stated that prior to Mills’ trial, the victims’ daughter had agreed not to oppose the State’s offer of a plea deal to JoAnn. In return, the district attorney agreed not to pursue the death penalty against JoAnn, on the condition that she “testified truthfully” at Mills’ trial.

Abudu ultimately sided with the state, rejecting Mills’ appeal and allowing the execution to proceed. Mills, however, submitted a separate petition to the United States Supreme Court, seeking a review of the decision and a reconsideration of the stay.

Mills expressed his concerns about the execution process in his appeal in April. He was well aware of the notoriety that Alabama’s correctional system had garnered in recent years for mishandling the executions of death row inmates through lethal injection. Earlier this year, Smith became the first inmate in the United States to be executed using nitrogen hypoxia, following a failed attempt at lethal injection in Alabama in 2022.

Abudu also took Mills’ concerns into consideration.

According to the judge’s opinion, Mills has a valid concern about being unnecessarily placed on the execution gurney while a stay is in place. He worries that the IV team may not be attempting to establish IV access or that officials may be transporting witnesses to the viewing area without providing any updates on the status of his cases or the execution protocol. The State, however, has assured the court that if Mills is granted a stay while on the execution gurney, he will be returned to a holding cell. The State has also taken steps to expedite its preparation process to ensure that witnesses are transported to the viewing area sooner, thereby minimizing delays.

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