With Nitrogen Executions, Oklahoma Enters Uncharted Waters

15 March, 2018, 05:45 | Author: Chad Mckenzie
  • Oklahoma will resume executions after 3-year hold — with nitrogen gas

Oklahoma has had one of the busiest death chambers in the United States, but has not 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.

Oklahoma is among 31 USA states that permit the death penalty and it has carried out 112 executions, the third highest number for a U.S. state, since 1976 when capital punishment was reinstated, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a non-profit capital punishment monitor.

After the state executed Charles Warner in January 2015, officials acknowledged they had used the wrong drug for his lethal injection, and hastily called off another execution.

Oklahoma and other states have not been able to get the drugs required for lethal injections amid opposition from drugmakers to having their products used in executions.

The execution table in the death-penalty chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

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Hunter said there was a growing body of research on the use of inert gases on humans due to their increasing use in assisted suicides, but several death penalty experts said the use of the nitrogen gas on unwilling subjects is entirely experimental and untested.

An autopsy first reported by The Oklahoman revealed that one of the drugs used was not part of the DOC's lethal injection protocol. Lockett kicked, writhed and grimaced for 20 minutes before his execution was called off; he died of a heart attack not long after.

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

Oklahoma's last executions drew scrutiny in the state and nationwide.

In 2014, Clayton Lockett regained consciousness during his execution because the IV wasn't properly placed.

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A spokeswoman for Hunter declined to comment on when executions might resume following a three-year hiatus.

Oklahoma residents strongly backed a measure in 2016 that gave lawmakers the ability to adopt any constitutional method of execution, which Hunter, who replaced Pruitt, cited on Wednesday.

Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, expressed doubts about the method in 2015, when the law was being changed to allow for nitrogen executions.

Execution officials said the chemical element likely would be administered using a specially designed gas mask. Allbaugh, the head of the corrections department, said his agency was working to develop a protocol. Gas inhalation would be the state's primary execution method if approved, officials said Wednesday.

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