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News / Nation & World

After nation’s 1st nitrogen gas execution, Alabama set to give man lethal injection for 2 killings

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
Published: May 30, 2024, 8:57am

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama is set to execute a man Thursday evening who was convicted of bludgeoning an elderly couple to death 20 years ago to steal prescription drugs and $140 from their home.

Jamie Ray Mills, 50, is scheduled to be put to death Thursday evening at a south Alabama prison. It will be Alabama’s first execution since the state conducted the nation’s first execution using nitrogen gas in January. Lethal injection remains the state’s main execution method unless an inmate has requested nitrogen.

Mills was convicted of capital murder in the 2004 killings of Floyd Hill, 87, and his 72-year-old wife, Vera Hill, in Guin, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) northwest of Birmingham. Prosecutors said Mills and his wife went to the couple’s home where he attacked the couple with a hammer, tire tool and machete.

Mills, who maintained his innocence at his 2007 trial, has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. His attorneys argued newly obtained evidence shows the prosecution lied about having a plea agreement with Mills’ wife to spare her from the death penalty if she testified against her husband. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office asked the justices to let the execution proceed.

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 found 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. Vera Hill was largely unable to talk after the attack other than to call out for her husband, according to court documents.

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, court documents added.

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 and she should follow his lead at the house. Once at the home, she testified, she saw her husband repeatedly strike the couple in the backyard shed, according to court documents.

A jury 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 of Alabama plans to execute Jamie Mills by lethal injection on May 30 despite new evidence that prosecutors obtained his conviction illegally by falsely telling the judge and jury they had not made a deal with the State’s star witness,” the Equal Justice Initiative, representing Mills, wrote on its website.

The state asked the court to let the execution proceed and argued that the district attorney and investigator maintain there was no plea deal. They said other evidence also connects him to the crime.

“The jury that decided Mills’s fate heard copious inculpatory evidence, including that the murder weapons were found in his trunk alongside a pair of pants with his name on them, covered in the blood of one of the victims,” the state wrote.

Attorneys for Mills 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. Without JoAnn Mills testimony, his attorneys wrote, the state’s case against Mills “was consistent with Mr. Mills’ theory of defense that he was framed” by a drug dealer arrested the night of the killings with the victims’ pills and a large amount of cash.

Attorneys for Mills also cited problems at past lethal injections to argue that Alabama subjects inmates to an “unnecessarily prolonged and torturous execution process” where inmates are strapped to the gurney for a long period of time ahead of the lethal injection, without access to counsel. The state called the claim meritless.