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Ala. executes inmate for killing elderly couple in 2004

The Alabama attorney general issued a statement that said the inmate’s “actions were cold and calculated, and his assigned punishment has never been more deserved”

Death Penalty Alabama

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)


By Ivana Hrynkiw

ATLANTA — Alabama Death Row inmate Jamie Ray Mills was executed by lethal injection Thursday evening for the brutal slayings of an elderly couple with a machete, ball-peen hammer, and a tire iron two decades ago.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, in announcing the execution had been carried out, stated that “Almost 20 years ago, the grandchildren of Floyd and Vera Hill, worried for their grandparents, filed a missing-person report only for police to discover the couple had been brutally and horrendously beaten to death. The Hills’ lives were taken at the hands of Jamie Mills. The evidence in this case is overwhelming, and Mr. Mills is undoubtedly guilty.”

“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 as they continue to grieve.”

Mills had maintained his innocence, and didn’t mention the crime in his final words.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall also issued a statement Thursday night, saying Mills’ “actions were cold and calculated, and his assigned punishment has never been more deserved.”

Mills was convicted and sentenced to die for the June 24, 2004 beating deaths of Floyd and Vera Hill. The elderly couple were beaten at their Marion County home before, prosecutors said, Mills and his former wife stole cash and prescription medication.

The execution

The execution was carried out at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore using the state’s three-drug lethal injection cocktail instead of nitrogen gas, which was used for the first time in the nation in Alabama in January’s execution of Kenneth Smith. Mills did not elect to change his execution method to nitrogen when inmates were given the opportunity to do so in June 2018.

The curtain to the execution chamber opened at 6:07 p.m., while several of Mills’ five witnesses cried softly in the witness room. One of his witnesses whispered, “Oh my God” as the curtain opened.

During the execution, his family continued to cry softly. One woman whispered, “Oh god” at one point.

After the curtain opened, Mills gave a thumbs-up motion towards the witness room where his attorney and family watched, along with members of the media. He was softly trembling as the death warrant was read.

His last words were: “I love my family. I love my brother and sister. I couldn’t ask for more. Charlotte, you fought hard for me. I love ya’ll, carry on.”

He was referring to Charlotte Morrison, his attorney from the Equal Justice Initiative. She was in the witness room.

Mills continuously gave a thumbs up to his family. At 6:12 p.m., his spiritual advisor approached him and prayed over him. Mills mouthed “I love you” to his family. About a minute after that, Mills appeared to slip into unconsciousness.

At 6:14 p.m., a prison guard in the execution chamber performed the standard consciousness check by flicking Mills’ eyelid, yelling his name, and pinching his arm. Mills did not respond to any of those actions.

Curtains to the execution room closed at 6:19 p.m. and his official time of death was 6:26 p.m.

The execution started about an hour and a half after the United States Supreme Court issued orders rejecting Mills’ two appeals and a request to stay the execution.

Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Hamm said the team who starts intravenous lines for the lethal injection didn’t have any issues finding a vein. Similar issues plagued several executions over the past years, with multiple being called off after IV lines couldn’t be started in time.

He said that Mills had “two sticks” and that each of the two IV lines were started on the first try.

The members of the execution team who start IVs were replaced following the governor’s three-month halt to executions at the end of 2022 and into 2023. Hamm credited that personnel change to the quick turn-around of Mills’ execution.

Members of the Hill family witnessed the execution, but requested their names not be shared.

The family of the Hills released a statement for Commissioner John Hamm to read following Mills’ death. It said, “In the past 20 years, our family has been seeking justice, and today justice has been served. However, it took 20 years to do so. Our family believes in the judicial system, no matter how long it takes.”

“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.”

Mills’ last hours

Before the execution, Alabama prison spokesperson Kelly Betts provided a recollection of Mills’ last 24 hours, including his last meals.

On Wednesday, he was visited by his brother, sister, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, spiritual advisor and a friend. He ate breakfast and lunch, along with snacks throughout the day. He refused his dinner. He also had phone calls with family members and his attorney.

On Thursday, Mills was visited by his brother, sister, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, spiritual advisor, and attorney. He didn’t make any phone calls.

His breakfast on Thursday was made up of eggs, gravy, prunes, oatmeal, and biscuits. He had snacks including potato chips, a candy bar, and a Sunkist and cola drink. His last meal consisted of a seafood platter with three large shrimp, two catfish filets, three oysters, three onion rings, and one stuffed crab.

Mills, 50, had fought his execution in two separate federal lawsuits: One challenging the state’s lethal injection protocol and another claiming his former wife lied when testifying against him.

Wednesday afternoon, Mills’ lawyers from the Equal Justice Initiative appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court after having had the appeal rejected by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday.

EJI, which represented Mills for many years released a statement after the execution: “By failing to honestly disclose the conversations and arrangements with the state’s main witness against Jamie Mills at trial, state prosecutors have lied, deceived and misrepresented the reliability of the evidence against Jamie Mills for 17 years. They weren’t honest with Jamie Mills, with the jury, the judge, state and federal appeal courts or the public. New evidence documenting this deceit has been dismissed as ‘too late,’ making finality more important than fairness. This is not justice.”

The group added, “Jamie Mills becomes another person needlessly killed by state officials who comfortably tolerate state deception, violation of the law and breach of fundamental, constitutional rights to carry out a death sentence they claim upholds the rule of law.”

The crime

Floyd Hill and Vera Hill had been married 55 years and lived in Guin, a small town in Marion County. According to an inscription on his gravestone, Floyd Hill was an Army veteran of World War II.

Vera Hill , 72, was in poor health. Though 15 years older, Floyd Hill acted as her caretaker.

Court documents laid out the events surrounding the couple’s brutal deaths on June 24, 2004.

Jamie Mills and his then-wife, JoAnn Mills, went to the Hills’ house on County Road 54. According to JoAnn Mills’ testimony at Jamie Mills’ trial, the Hills let the couple inside for Jamie Mills to use their phone. After he made several phone calls, Vera Hill wanted to show JoAnn Mills some of the items in their shed that she was planning to sell at a yard sale.

Floyd Hill unlocked the shed and everyone looked at the items for sale, according to JoAnn Mills’ testimony. After that, Jamie Mills and Floyd Hill continued to talk inside the shed while the women stepped outside.

JoAnn Mills said that she heard a loud noise and saw her husband swinging something. She followed Vera Hill back inside the shed, when she saw Floyd Hill lying on the ground. Then, she said, Jamie Mills hit Vera Hill in the head with a hammer.

Jamie Mills continued to beat the couple, JoAnn Mills said. At some point, the Mills left the shed and went into the Hill home and stole various items, including Floyd Hills’ wallet, Vera Hills’ purse, a phone, and a tacklebox containing prescription medication.

Guin police stopped the couple the next day when they were leaving their house with the murder weapons and bloody clothes.

The Hills were found after one of their adult grandchildren stopped by to check on them the night of the murders and couldn’t find them. When police arrived and found the elderly couple in their shed, Floyd Hill was pronounced dead at the scene.

Vera Hill was taken to a nearby hospital with serious injuries, and later transferred to UAB Hospital in Birmingham. She died September 12, 2004. Court records show her cause of death was “complications of blunt head trauma.”

JoAnn Mills initially told police a local drug dealer had committed the murders.

But the murder weapons, along with Jamie Mills’ bloody clothes, were found in the Mills car trunk. Jamie Mills has argued that the car trunk didn’t lock, and the drug dealer had access to the couple’s car on the day of the crime.

Mills maintained his innocence.

The lawsuits

Throughout the past few weeks, Mills had been fighting his execution through two separate appeals in federal court.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected both of Mills’ arguments. Both orders were issued by a three-judge panel. Those denials were appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which later denied them as well and cleared the way for the lethal injection.

In his lawsuit challenging Alabama’s three-drug lethal injection method, Mills had argued that Alabama’s “practice of restraining its condemned prisoners on a gurney before execution will violate his constitutional rights to access the courts, to counsel, to due process, and against cruel and unusual punishment.”

While the intravenous lines are established for a death row inmate’s lethal injection, no one is allowed to be in the room except for state officials. Mills had challenged that procedure, but the court ruled that “Mills has no constitutionally protected interest in having counsel present throughout his execution.”

The appellate judges also remarked on a lower court’s ruling that called Mills’ lawyers delay in filing his lawsuit “inexplicable and inexcusable.”

The appeals court ruling Wednesday said, “A reasonably diligent plaintiff would have sought a stay (of execution) much sooner.”

In his lawsuit, Mills cited several executions dating back to 2022, when a controversial execution and two aborted execution attempts led Gov. Kay Ivey to halt executions for several months.

11th Circuit Judge Nancy Abudu wrote a concurring opinion Tuesday “to ensure Mills’ concerns regarding Alabama’s execution process are appropriately acknowledged.”

“While precedent does not establish that these conditions are unconstitutional per se, Alabama’s pattern of delay during executions is troubling. Mills has a valid fear that he will be unnecessarily placed on the execution gurney if a stay is in place, while the IV team is not attempting to establish IV access, or while officials transport witnesses to the viewing area, without being given any updates from officials on the status of his cases or the ongoing execution protocol.”

Mills’ other lawsuit concerns the testimony of his former common-law wife, JoAnn Mills. After her testimony, JoAnn Mills pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of murder and was sentenced to life in prison. She will be considered for parole in December 2027.

Jamie Mills was convicted and on an 11-1 vote the jury recommended he be sentenced to death.

Jamie Mills’ lawyers have long argued that Jamie Mills had testified against him to get a better sentence for herself, and that she had a plea deal in place before she took the stand. Prosecutors have always denied the claim.

“No reasonable jurist could conclude that the district court abused its discretion in rejecting this argument,” the appellate court judges wrote.

Judge Abudu wrote another concurring opinion in that lawsuit. “The death penalty is the harshest punishment one can receive in this country... Unfortunately, even when a petitioner’s life hangs in the balance, our case law does not extend sufficient procedural and substantive due process protections.”

Advocates from several organizations that oppose the death penalty delivered a petition to Ivey on Tuesday opposing the lethal injection. Ivey has the power to commute a death sentence but has never done so. Along with the petition opposing Mills’ execution, advocates delivered two other petitions opposing Alabama’s nitrogen hypoxia execution method and seeking greater transparency in the execution process.

Abudu wrote in her opinion on the lethal injection lawsuit, “Although those on death row are considered the most detested members of society, our humanity remains dependent on carrying out the most severe penalty in the least barbaric way.”

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