Ok­la­homa’s Repub­li­can gover­nor signs bill al­low­ing ni­tro­gen gas in ex­e­cu­tions


Ok­la­homa be­came the first U.S. state to ap­prove ni­tro­gen gas for ex­e­cu­tions un­der a mea­sure the state’s Repub­li­can gover­nor signed into law Fri­day that pro­vides an al­ter­na­tive death penalty method if lethal in­jec­tions aren’t pos­si­ble, ei­ther be­cause of a court rul­ing or a drug short­age.

Ex­e­cu­tions are on hold in Ok­la­homa while the U.S. Supreme Court con­sid­ers whether the state’s cur­rent three-drug method of lethal in­jec­tion is con­sti­tu­tional. Sup­port­ers of the new law main­tain ni­tro­gen- in­duced hy­poxia is a hu­mane and pain­less method of ex­e­cu­tion that re­quires no med­i­cal ex­per­tise to per­form. There are no re­ports of ni­tro­gen gas ever be­ing used to ex­e­cute hu­mans, and crit­ics say that one con­cern is that the method is untested. Some states even ban its use to put an­i­mals to sleep.

“I sup­port that pol­icy, and I be­lieve cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment must be per­formed ef­fec­tively and with­out cru­elty,” Gov. Mary Fallin said in a state­ment an­nounc­ing that she had signed the bill into law. “The bill I signed to­day gives the state of Okla- homa an­other death penalty op­tion that meets that stan­dard.”

Ok­la­homa’s changes come af­ter a botched ex­e­cu­tion last year in which Ok­la­homa was us­ing a new seda­tive as the first in a three-drug com­bi­na­tion. State of­fi­cials tried to halt the lethal in­jec­tion af­ter the in­mate writhed on the gur­ney and moaned. He died 43 min­utes af­ter the process be­gan.

States have been scram­bling as Euro­pean phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies have re­stricted the flow of lethal drugs.

The bill eas­ily passed a Repub­li­can-con­trolled state Leg­is­la­ture.

Sup­port­ers of Ok­la­homa’s plan ar­gue that ni­tro­gen-in­duced hy­poxia — or a lack of oxy­gen in the blood — is a hu­mane ex­e­cu­tion method.

“The process is fast and pain­less,” said Chris­tian, a for­mer Ok­la­homa High­way Pa­trol trooper who wrote the bill. “It’s fool­proof.”

Op­po­nents say there’s no way to know whether the method is pain­less and ef­fec­tive.

‘Our State’s col­lec­tive blood­lust’

“It just hasn’t been tried, so we don’t know,” said Rep. Emily Vir­gin, a Demo­crat who op­poses the death penalty.

Adam Leathers, spokesman for the Ok­la­homa Coali­tion to Abol­ish the Death Penalty, re­leased a state­ment blast­ing the new law.

“This is not only a grotesque waste of re­sources but in­dica­tive of a cor­rupt value sys­tem,” he said. “It is sad to know that our State’s col­lec­tive blood­lust is so un­abated that our lead­er­ship feels the need to spend re­sources to put a back up sys­tem into place so State spon­sored mur­der can go on un­in­ter­rupted.”

Un­der the new law, lethal in­jec­tion would re­main the state’s first choice for ex­e­cu­tions and ni­tro­gen gas would be its first backup method — ahead of the elec­tric chair, which the state hasn’t used since 1966, and a fir­ing squad, which has never been used in Ok­la­homa.

Last year’s prob­lem­atic ex­e­cu­tion was blamed on a poorly placed in­tra­venous line and prompted a law­suit from Ok­la­homa death row in­mates, who ar­gue that the state’s new drug com­bi­na­tion presents a se­ri­ous risk of pain and suf­fer­ing. The U.S. Supreme Court is sched­uled to hear ar­gu­ments later this month.

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