Jamie Mills Executed Despite New Evidence That Prosecutors Falsified Case Against Him

Updated 05.30.24

The State of Alabama executed Jamie Mills by lethal injection today despite new evidence that prosecutors obtained his conviction illegally by falsely telling the judge and jury they had not made a deal with the State’s star witness.

In 2005, Jamie Mills and two other suspects—his wife, JoAnn Mills, and a known local drug dealer, Benjie Howe—were arrested and charged with capital murder in the deaths of Floyd and Vera Hill. Benjie Howe was in possession of one victim’s medicine and a large amount of cash when he was arrested. Jamie and JoAnn Mills were arrested after physical evidence from the crime, including the murder weapons, was found in the trunk of their car.

JoAnn Mills told police in two different statements that she suspected Benjie Howe had planted the weapons in their car and that Mr. Howe had brought stolen items to their home in the past. Her statements were corroborated by police accounts that, in the weeks preceding the murder, officers saw Mr. Howe frequenting the Mills’s home where the murder weapons were found and evidence that the trunk of the Mills’s car had no lock and could easily be opened.

It was only after police threatened JoAnn Mills’s children and falsely claimed that DNA evidence on the murder weapons matched Jamie Mills that she gave a third statement implicating Jamie. Other than the evidence found in the unlocked trunk, JoAnn’s third statement was the only evidence connecting Mr. Mills to the crime.

The State’s Key Witness

The State’s case against Jamie depended on the jury believing that JoAnn—who had been charged with capital murder and was facing the death penalty or life without parole if convicted at her own trial—was credible when she testified against Jamie consistent with her third statement.

 Accordingly, at the outset of JoAnn’s testimony, the district attorney affirmatively elicited that she had not been offered a plea deal in exchange for her testimony:

District Attorney: And are you doing this of your own free will?

JoAnn Mills: Yes, sir.

District Attorney: Have there been any deals or offers or anything like that made to you?

JoAnn Mills: No, sir.

On cross, JoAnn insisted that she was “up here admitting to capital murder without any hope of help from the district attorney’s office.”

Mr. Mills’s defense counsel also questioned the district attorney “on the record” about the existence of a plea offer or any inducement. The district attorney responded:

Prosecutor: There is not.

Defense: Not a promise, not a maybe, not a nudge, not a wink, because we think it stretches the bounds of credibility that her lawyer would let her testify as she did without such an Inducement.

Prosecutor: There is none.

Defense: None?

Prosecutor: Have not made her any promises, nothing.

Defense: Have you suggested that a promise might be made after she testifies truthfully?

Prosecutor: No.

Defense: No inducement whatsoever?

Prosecutor: No.

In closing argument, the prosecutor told the jury the case came down to Jamie’s word against JoAnn’s, and urged the jury to believe JoAnn because she was not promised anything in exchange for her testimony.

The jury convicted Mr. Mills of capital murder and he was sentenced to death. Ten days later, the State dismissed the capital murder charges against JoAnn Mills. She pleaded to a lesser offense and was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.

New Evidence of Prosecutorial Misconduct

Mr. Mills’s counsel filed a motion for a new trial after learning that the State dismissed capital murder charges against JoAnn Mills, arguing this evidence established that JoAnn did have a deal in exchange for her testimony. The motion was denied without a hearing.

Over the course of the last 17 years, Mr. Mills has asked the State to reveal evidence of its deal with JoAnn Mills on 15 separate occasions, and each time, the State has denied the existence of any such deal.

But newly discovered evidence establishes that the State’s representations at trial and throughout the appeal and postconviction proceedings were false.

JoAnn Mills’s lawyer, Tony Glenn, submitted a sworn affidavit and supporting evidence showing that he met with the district attorney and the victims’ family to obtain a deal that would spare her the death penalty in exchange for her testimony against Jamie Mills. “According to Glenn,” Eleventh Circuit Judge Nancy G. Abudu wrote, “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.”

This new evidence from JoAnn Mills’s attorney establishes that the State falsely told the jury, trial judge, defense counsel, and every state and federal court that JoAnn Mills had nothing to gain from testifying against Mr. Mills.

Based on this new evidence, Mr. Mills filed a motion in federal court on April 5, 2024, requesting that the court reopen his appeal.

The State continues to deny the existence of a deal and urged the federal court to dismiss Mr. Mills’s motion and allow the State to move forward with his execution without reviewing this critical issue, and with no consequences for the State’s misconduct.

The federal district court denied relief, and Mr. Mills asked the federal appeals court to stay his execution and review his claims. On May 28, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his appeal and denied Mr. Mills a stay of execution, ruling that the evidence he presented was not sufficient to reopen his case for further review. 

Judge Abudu disagreed with the other two judges. In a separate opinion stressing the importance of reliability in death penalty cases and underscoring that prosecutors are forbidden from suppressing favorable evidence and are obligated to correct false testimony,  she wrote that Mr. Mills met the threshold requirement to obtain review of his claims. The factual issues raised by the new evidence “should be resolved by the district court after an evidentiary hearing,” she wrote.

Mr. Mills appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied review on Thursday afternoon.

Serious Questions Remain

When new evidence raises serious questions about whether a person has been wrongly convicted and illegally sentenced to death, courts have a responsibility to evaluate the evidence and give the legal arguments full consideration. Failing to do so undermines our system of justice.

More than half of wrongful convictions can be traced to witnesses who lied in court or made false accusations. False testimony by jailhouse informants is especially common in death penalty cases. 

The consequences of prosecutors’ failure to disclose prosecutorial misconduct like the misconduct that took place in Mr. Mills’s case are striking. Since 1988, data from the National Registry of Exonerations shows that 987 people were wrongly convicted because of official misconduct by prosecutors, including perjury or false reports by police and other witnesses. The exonerees in these cases spent an average of 12 years each in prison.

The consequences of misconduct in death penalty cases can be irrevocable. Alabama sentences more people to die than any other state and has one of the highest execution rates per capita in the country. With 73 executions and nine exonerations since 1976, Alabama has a shocking rate of error: for every eight people executed, one has been exonerated.

In this case, new evidence raised significant questions about the reliability of Jamie Mills’s conviction and death sentence, including as Judge Abudu wrote, “why JoAnn’s attorney would sign an affidavit against his client’s interests that could jeopardize his own legal career” if it were not true? 

The State never denied that there was a pretrial meeting with the victim’s family, which begs the question—how could it be true that JoAnn had absolutely no reason to hope for a deal from the district attorney if she provided the critical testimony the State needed? Why would she get on the stand and confess to capital murder without a deal? And if there was no prior agreement, how can the fact that the capital charges against her were dropped—and she not only avoided the death penalty but received a parole-eligible sentence—a mere 10 days after Jamie Mills was sentenced to death be explained? 

As Judge Abudu found, the failure to provide process in a death penalty case where Jamie Mills has maintained his innocence—despite a affidavit from an officer of the court attesting under oath that a plea deal did exist—creates a “risk of injustice” and “risk of undermining the public’s confidence in the judicial process.” 

Risk of Unnecessary Torture

Mr. Mills filed a separate lawsuit alleging that the State of Alabama has subjected condemned prisoners to unnecessarily prolonged torture on the execution gurney without access to counsel or the courts in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. 

In the last two years, Alabama prison officials have kept condemned men strapped down to a gurney for hours, even while a stay of execution is in place, without access to legal help to challenge or even document the State’s actions, done in secret behind closed doors.

The district court denied Mr. Mills’s challenge on May 21 and, on May 28, the Eleventh Circuit refused to review his claims, even though as Judge Abudu wrote in a separate opinion, Alabama’s “troubling” pattern of delay during executions means that: 

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 U.S. Supreme Court denied Mr. Mills’s petition for review Thursday afternoon.