Monday, 25 June, 2018

Oklahoma death penalty: state to use nitrogen gas for executions

Criminal Justice Criminal Justice
Ellis Copeland | 15 March, 2018, 05:43

The debate over lethal injection, which prompted court cases, execution delays and struggles to obtain drugs, led Oklahoma in 2015 to make nitrogen gas its backup execution method in instances when lethal injection could not be used.

The state intends to adopt the new execution method as prison officials are unable to acquire the necessary drugs for lethal injections - the method now employed by all American states that carry out the death penalty. "Using nitrogen will be effective, simple to administer, easy to obtain and requires no complex medical procedures".

The executions of Clayton Lockett in 2014 and Charles Warner in 2015 were considered traumatic deaths, some saying the cocktails used in the lethal injections caused, "unnecessary pain before death".

The state has had a history of botched executions and a full review was ordered after the 2015 execution of Richard Glossip was called off at the last moment when prison officials discovered they had the wrong drug to kill him.

The state put executions on hold after that.

Attorney General Mike Hunter and Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh said Oklahoma will use the new method once a execution protocol is finalized.

Oklahoma officials said they didn't know when executions would resume but hope to draft the new gas protocols within the next 120 days. A bungled procedure in 2014 left an inmate writhing on the gurney.

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The time frame for when executions will resume has not yet been fully set yet. Later that year, it was revealed that Warner's execution had been carried out using the wrong drug - potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride, for stopping the heart.

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.

"My discussions with individuals, seedy individuals who had access to drugs, even with other states with access to drugs, has proven to be for nought".

"If lethal injection is held unconstitutional, or is unavailable, an execution shall be carried out by nitrogen hypoxia", Hunter said.

"This method has never been used before and is experimental", said 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.

Hunter said the administration of the gas would probably require the use of a mask placed over the inmate's head, but he said the mechanical details still have to be worked out.

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