Watch CBS News

Alabama executes death row inmate Jamie Mills for elderly couple's 2004 murders

Alabama takes criticism for nitrogen gas execution
Alabama fields heavy criticism for nitrogen gas execution 01:56

Alabama executed death row inmate Jamie Ray Mills on Thursday, marking the state's first execution since Kenneth Smith was put to death using nitrogen hypoxia in January. 

Mills, 50, was pronounced dead at 6:26 p.m. local time after a three-drug injection at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in southwest Alabama, the state's Department of Corrections said in a statement. 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 in the 2004 killing of a senior couple at their home in northwestern Alabama. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey had authorized a 30-hour window for his execution to take place, between 12 a.m. Thursday and 6 a.m. Friday, although officials estimated that it would begin at around 6 p.m. local time Thursday, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections. 

"On May 29, 2024, Mills had 6 visitors and 6 phone calls," the department's statement said. "On May 30, 2024, he had 6 visitors, nocphone calls, accepted his breakfast tray, and had a final meal of seafood."

A joint statement from Ivey and Corrections Commissioner John Hamm released earlier in May noted plans for Mills' execution could potentially change, "based on the conclusion of the required legal proceedings." 

Death Penalty Alabama
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. Alabama is set to execute Mills on Thursday evening, May 30, 2024. Alabama Department of Corrections via AP, File

An Alabama jury convicted Mills in 2007 for the murders of 87-year-old Floyd Hill and 72-year-old Vera Hill, an elderly couple living in Guin, near the Mississippi border, court documents show. Two others were also found guilty in the case: JoAnn Mills, considered Jamie Mills' wife by common law standards during the trial; and Benjie Howe, described as a local drug dealer. In court filings, prosecutors said Jamie Mills and his wife had plotted to steal money and prescription pills from the Hills after killing them. They described the murders as brutal executions, carried out using "a machete, tire tool and ball-peen hammer."

The Hills' money and prescription drugs were found in Howe's possession when he was eventually arrested as a suspect, and both Jamie and JoAnn Mills' arrests came soon afterward, as authorities say they discovered the murder weapons in the trunk of their car. DNA lifted from the tools matched one of the victims, but attorneys for Mills have in more recent years argued that little else existed in the way of concrete evidence linking him to the crime. During the trial, testimony given by Mills' wife helped anchor the prosecution's case. 

JoAnn Mills originally suggested to authorities that Howe had planted the murder weapons in the trunk of her and her husband's car in an attempt to frame them for killing the Hills, according to court filings. Ultimately, though, she became the prosecution's key witness as they sought to convict Jamie Mills for the crimes. How and why that change happened later emerged as a source of controversy over whether Mills' conviction and death penalty sentence were fair. 

Transcripts from the trial show that, during questioning, former Marion County District Attorney William Bostick said on the stand that JoAnn Mills had not been incentivized to testify against her husband and accuse him of the murders. In at least one exchange, Jamie Mills' defense counsel asked the prosecutor directly if any "inducement" existed that may have encouraged his wife's testimony, to which the district attorney repeatedly said no. JoAnn Mills was eventually convicted in the Hills' murders and sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole, with Alabama dismissing capital murder charges against her. 

It was discovered later that her lawyer at the time, Tony Glenn, had said in a sworn affidavit that he met with the district attorney and the Hills' family members to arrange a deal in which the state would not pursue the death penalty against her if she testified against her husband. As a result, Mills filed a motion this past April asking the court to reopen his appeal and grant a stay of execution. He always maintained his innocence in the Hills' murders.

Eleventh Circuit Judge Nancy G. Abudu acknowledged in the court's opinion this week, "According to Glenn, before Mills' trial, the victims' daughter agreed not to oppose the State offering JoAnn a plea deal, and the district attorney agreed to not pursue the death penalty against JoAnn—so long as she 'testified truthfully' at Mills' trial." 

Abudu still ruled in favor of the state, denying Mills' appeal and authorizing the execution to go forward. Mills filed a separate petition to the United States Supreme Court to review the decision and reconsider a stay.

In his April appeal, Mills shared concerns about the execution itself, knowing that Alabama's correctional system earned some level of notoriety over the last half-decade or so for botching death row inmates' executions by lethal injection. Smith became the first condemned inmate in the United States put to death by nitrogen hypoxia earlier this year after surviving a botched lethal injection attempt in 2022 in Alabama.

Abudu addressed Mills' concerns as well.

"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," the judge wrote in the opinion. "In its filings to this Court, the State has assured us that should Mills be granted a stay while he is on the execution gurney, he will be returned to a holding cell. The State also indicated it has taken steps to accelerate its preparation process to ensure witnesses are transported to the viewing area sooner to limit delays."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.