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

ATMORE, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama man received a lethal injection Thursday for the 2004 deaths of an elderly couple who police said were attacked with a hammer, machete and tire tool during a robbery at their home.

Jamie Ray Mills, 50, was pronounced dead at 6:26 p.m. after a three-drug injection at a southwest Alabama prison, authorities said.

Mills was the first inmate put to death by the state since Alabama became the first in the nation to execute an inmate using nitrogen gas months ago. Lethal injection remains Alabama’s default execution method unless a condemned inmate requests nitrogen gas or the electric chair.

Mills was convicted of capital murder in the deaths of Floyd Hill, 87, and his wife Vera Hill, 72. Prosecutors said they were attacked on June 24, 2004, at their home in Guin about 80 miles (130 kilometers) northwest of Birmingham during a robbery where $140 and prescription drugs were stolen.

“Tonight, two decades after he committed these murders, Jamie Mills has paid the price for his heinous crimes. I pray for the victims and their loved ones," Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement.

As the execution began, Mills gave a thumbs up to family members, who were watching from a witness room.

“I love my family. I love my brother and sister. I couldn’t ask for more,” Mills said as he looked in the direction of his brother and sister. He also thanked his attorney, Charlotte Morrison of the Equal Justice Initiative. “Charlotte, you fought hard for me. I love y’all. Carry on.”

Some of his relatives cried softly through the execution.

As the first execution drug — a sedative — flowed, Mills appeared to quickly lose consciousness as a spiritual adviser prayed at the foot of the gurney.

In 2007, a jury convicted Jamie Mills of capital murder and voted 11-1 for the death sentence that was imposed by a judge.

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, officers arrived to find them in pools of blood in the backyard shed where they stored yard sale items.

Floyd Hill died from wounds to the head and neck and Vera Hill died about 12 weeks later from complications of head trauma, according to court filings. Investigators said the tacklebox, murder weapons and bloody clothes were later found in the trunk of Mills' car.

Members of the victims' family witnessed the execution and issued a statement that “justice has been served” after a 20-year wait.

“Our family now can have some closure to this heinous crime that he committed and our loving grandparents can rest in peace. Let this be a lesson for those that believe justice will not find you. Hopefully, this will prevent others from committing future crimes. God help us all,” the statement from the Hill and Freeman families read.

At the 2007 trial, JoAnn Mills became the key witness against her common-law husband. She testified that after staying up all night smoking methamphetamine, her husband took her along to the victims' home where she testified she saw her husband repeatedly strike the couple in the backyard shed, court documents indicate.

In final appeals, attorneys for Mills, who maintained his innocence at trial, had argued 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.

JoAnn Mill’s trial attorney 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 Equal Justice Initiative said after the execution that prosecutors “lied, deceived and misrepresented the reliability of the evidence against Jamie Mills for 17 years.”

“There will come a day when governments recognize the perverse injustice of this process and the wrongfulness of this punishment. It will be a day that is too late for Jamie Mills which makes his death tragically regrettable and mournfully unjust," the statement added.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday afternoon declined the request to halt the execution.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said there was a trove of evidence against Mills. “His actions were cold and calculated, and his assigned punishment has never been more deserved,” Marshall said.

On Jan. 25, Alabama executed inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith with nitrogen gas, a first-of-its-kind method that stirred fresh 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 was the first new execution method 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 Elizabeth Sennett.

Kim Chandler, The Associated Press