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Appeals court won’t halt upcoming Alabama execution

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Tuesday declined to halt the upcoming execution of an Alabama man convicted in the beating deaths of an elderly couple during a 2004 robbery.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied two separate requests for an execution stay for Jamie Ray Mills, 50. Mills is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection Thursday evening in Alabama.

Mills was convicted of capital murder for the 2004 slaying of Floyd and Vera Hill in Guin, a small city located about 82 miles (132 kilometers) northwest of Birmingham. Prosecutors said Mills and his wife went to the couple’s home where he used a ball-peen hammer, tire tool and machete to beat and stab the couple before stealing $140 and prescription medications.

The three-judge panel denied stay requests in two different cases. One case argued that newly discovered evidence proved prosecutors concealed a plea deal with Mills’ wife to get her to testify against her husband. The other challenged aspects of the state’s lethal injection protocol.

Angie Setzer, a senior attorney with the Equal Justice Initiative, which is representing Mills, said they are disappointed in the decisions and will appeal. Setzer said the cases show the “state’s deceit and concealment both at Mr. Mills’ trial and with regards to executions.”

Attorneys with the initiative in April asked a federal judge to reopen the case, arguing newly discovered evidence proved prosecutors lied about having a plea deal with Mills’ wife who provided key trial testimony against him. The defense lawyer for JoAnn Mills signed an affidavit saying the district attorney agreed that “he would not pursue the capital charge and would agree to a plea of murder” if she testified at her husband’s trial. After testifying, JoAnn Mills pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of murder and was sentenced to life in prison.

The state maintains there was no plea deal and submitted its own affidavits from the district attorney and his investigator.

U.S. District Judge Scott Coogler ruled that Mill’s argument was raised too late and did not prove that the conviction was obtained by fraud or misconduct.

Mills’ attorneys sought a “certificate of appealability” to get the 11th Circuit to take up the issue. Chief Judge William Pryor, in ruling for the state, wrote that they did not meet the required legal threshold because “no reasonable jurist could conclude that the district court abused its discretion.” The appellate court then denied the stay request.

Circuit Judge Nancy G. Abudu concurred in the decision but wrote that she was concerned about the rigid interpretation of rules in death penalty cases preventing further exploration of the issue.

“Unfortunately, even when a petitioner’s life hangs in the balance, our case law does not extend sufficient procedural and substantive due process protection,” Abudu wrote.

Floyd Hill, 87, died from blunt and sharp-force wounds to his head and neck, and Vera Hill, 72, died from complications of head trauma about 12 weeks after the crime, the attorney general’s office wrote in a court filing. A jury voted 11-1 to recommend a death sentenced for Jamie Mills, which a judge imposed.

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