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

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 US$140 from their home. (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP, 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 US$140 from their home. (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP, File)
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ATMORE, Ala. -

An Alabama man received a lethal injection Thursday for the killing of an elderly couple in 2004, the first inmate put to death by the state since it became the first in the nation to execute an inmate using nitrogen gas months ago.

Jamie Ray Mills, 50, was pronounced dead at 6:26 p.m. after a three-drug injection at the William C. Holman Correctional Faciilty in southwest Alabama, authorities said. 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 at trial in the killings of Floyd Hill, 87, and his wife Vera, 72. Prosecutors said they were attacked with a hammer, machete and a tire tool at their home about 80 miles (130 kilometres) northwest of Birmingham.

"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," 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, and later mouthed, "I love you" in their direction.

"I love my family. I love my brother and sister. I couldn't ask for more," Mills said in his final statement 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."

As the drugs flowed, Mills appeared to quickly lose consciousness as a spiritual adviser prayed at the foot of the gurney in the execution chamber.

Hours earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court declined without comment to step in. Attorneys for Mills, who maintained his innocence at his 2007 trial, had argued that 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. They also argued Alabama has a history of problematic executions.

But Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall's office asked the justices to let the execution proceed, with the state writing there was much incriminating evidence against him.

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 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, according to court filings.

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 US$10,000 behind in child support for his two sons, was upset over his parents' failing health and had relapsed into drug use, according to court documents.

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.

The jury convicted Jamie Mills of capital murder in 2007, voting 11-1 for the death sentence imposed by the judge. 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.

Final appeals before the 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 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 in a statement after the execution said 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," it said.

On Jan. 25, Alabama executed inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith with nitrogen gas, putting him to death with 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 marked the first time a new execution method has been 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 a preacher's wife, Elizabeth Sennett.

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