Oklahoma to resume executions using nitrogen gas

AN OCT. 9 2014 FILE

The state of Oklahoma will use nitrogen gas to execute death row inmates going forward, officials said Wednesday, an unprecedented response to the inability of states nationwide to obtain lethal injection drugs.

State officials made the announcement Wednesday, saying they cannot get the drugs needed for lethal injections because some drugmakers oppose having their products used in executions.

Oklahoma's announcement follows years of national turmoil about execution drugs, including pitched legal battles and resistance from pharmaceutical companies that have questioned whether their products should be used in death chambers.

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.

The use of nitrogen gas has already been approved by the state legislature, but it was only a reserve method and has never been attempted anywhere in America.

According to the state law, if lethal injection is held unconstitutional or is unavailable, an execution shall be carried out by nitrogen hypoxia.

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The grand jury said it found that secrecy surrounding how the DOC obtained the drugs used in Warner's execution and allocated for Glossip's was a factor in both having occurred contrary to the lethal injection protocol. A bungled procedure in 2014 left an inmate writhing on the gurney. But in recent years, even those states dedicated to continuing the practice have run into roadblocks amid a shortage of lethal injection chemicals, driven in part by drugmakers' objections to the death penalty.

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. A bill that would make the electric chair the state's default execution method is now before the House Committee on the Judiciary.

State lawmakers then passed a law approving use of the gas.

Nitrogen gas exposure is known to cause death within minutes, with those exposed experiencing fatigue, dizziness, loss of breath and euphoria before losing consciousness, Hunter's office said in a statement.

It will take three to four months to develop a protocol for administering the gas, which will likely be nitrogen pumped through a mask.

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