Oklahoma uses nitrogen gas for execution

The gurney is seen in the execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary and the viewing room behind the glass

State law also allows officials to opt for firing squads or the electric chair in executions.

Nitrogen is an odorless and tasteless gas that makes up about 78 percent of the air we breathe but it causes death when inhaled without any oxygen. It is touted by some advocates for industry euthanasia of animals.

"Argon, helium, nitrogen, they're all inert gases".

Now Oklahoma plans to use nitrogen in its death-penalty chamber.

If the plan and protocols withstand court scrutiny, Oklahoma would become the first state to use the method in executions. The court ultimately upheld Oklahoma's lethal injection methods, but executions remained on hold as a grand jury investigated how officials wound up using the wrong drug to execute an inmate earlier that year.

Oklahoma is turning to nitrogen after it, and other states, have been unable to acquire drugs required for lethal injections due to opposition from manufacturers to their products being used for capital punishment.

"Nobody has attempted this kind of execution before", said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Oklahoma has not executed an offender since January 15, 2015, when Charles Warner was put to death for the 2003 slaying of 11-month-old Adrianna Waller.

One inmate was executed with an unapproved drug and a second inmate was just moments away from being led to the death chamber before prison officials realized the same wrong drug had been delivered for his execution.

Richard Glossip, who survived his execution date because of the drugs blunder, will now be the first in line for the new method of execution.

In 2014, Oklahoma drew intense scrutiny for its death-penalty procedures after the execution of Clayton Lockett gained global attention.

A grand jury investigation sharply assailed officials charged with carrying out Oklahoma's executions, and Scott Pruitt, then the state's attorney general, called them "careless, cavalier and in some circumstances dismissive of established procedures". On Wednesday, when asked about that proposal, Allbaugh responded, "Not necessary".

In addition to six death row inmates whose executions have been stayed, 12 death row inmates have exhausted all of their appeals and are eligible to be scheduled for executions.

Any attempt to change the method used to execute inmates in Oklahoma is certain to trigger a flurry of legal challenges.

Dale Baich, a federal public defender and one of the attorneys representing Oklahoma death row prisoners in a federal lawsuit challenging the state's lethal injection protocol said: "How can we trust Oklahoma to get this right when the state's recent history reveals a culture of carelessness and mistakes in executions?"

Nitrogen's introduction as a potential execution method in Oklahoma isn't a surprise.

Gov. Mary Fallin in 2015 signed a measure adding nitrogen gas to the list of execution methods.

The precise details have yet to be worked out, but it's likely that a hood or a mask would be used to administer nitrogen gas.

"We can no longer sit on the sidelines and wait on the drugs", Hunter said. In the end, it's impossible to guarantee the chain of custody needed for the drugs, he said.

The 150-day period doesn't start until the protocol is developed, which is expected to take at least 90 days. Alabama legislators are considering a bill on the issue this year.



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