Oklahoma Says It Will Use Nitrogen Gas in Executions

Criminal Justice

Criminal Justice

Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh was put in charge of the state's prisons in January 2016, a year after Oklahoma's last execution, one in which the state used the wrong drug on Charles Warner.

Oklahoma officials said on Wednesday the state would resume executions using nitrogen gas, a move that would make it the first U.S. state to use the gas for capital punishment.

Hunter said the state plans to abandon its current lethal injection procedure, which relies on a three-drug cocktail - Midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride - inserted into an IV.

Oklahoma has had one of the busiest death chambers in the USA, but hasn't carried out an execution since 2015 after a series of mishaps, including a botched lethal injection in 2014 that left an inmate writhing on the gurney and drug mix-ups in which the wrong lethal drugs were delivered to the prison for executions.

Hunter said using nitrogen gas is the best way for Oklahoma to resume executions, but it will still need to go through courts and could take months before it goes into action.

FOX23 reached out to area district attorneys about possible cases this could impact.

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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".

Any attempt to change the method used to execute inmates in Oklahoma is certain to trigger a flurry of legal challenges. When nitrogen gas was approved as a backup method in Oklahoma, the corrections department said there was no protocol in place, and that remained the case Wednesday, almost two years later.

"How can we trust Oklahoma to get this right when the state has the recent history that reveals a culture of carelessness and mistakes?"

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

"Nitrogen hypoxia has been studied as a means of suicide and as it relates to pilots for decades and its benefits are it's not a complicated medical procedure, nor does it require pharmaceuticals that might be restricted in supply", said Michael Copeland, an assistant professor of criminology at East Central University in Ada who testified at a legislative hearing about the issue in September 2014.

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. That's caused forced delays and changes in protocol in several states. Overall US executions rose slightly in 2017 to 23 but remained around the lowest in decades, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

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