Oklahoma death penalty: state plans to execute inmates with nitrogen gas


Attorney General Hunter says the new procedure is the best way for the state to move forward with executions and ensure justice is met for victims of heinous crimes, and Corrections Director Allbaugh says his agency is now studying inert gas inhalation and is working to develop a protocol and procedure to carry out future executions.

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.

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.

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

The following year, Oklahoma successfully executed Charles Warner but used potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride as the third drug.

Unknowns remain, give that state officials only recently began developing the protocols.

A multicounty grand jury under the purview of the state Attorney General's Office issued a report in May 2016 calling state officials' conduct during execution preparations "careless". Oklahoma would be the first state to employ the method.

The troubles also led to the creation of the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission, a study group that in April 2017 recommended dozens of changes to the state's criminal justice and execution system.

In 2014, Oklahoma drew intense scrutiny for its death-penalty procedures after the execution of Clayton Lockett gained global attention. The European Union in 2011 voted to prohibit the sale of the drug and seven other barbiturates to the United States for use in torture or executions.

Oklahoma is the latest state to explore alternative execution methods - including the electric chair and firing squad - because pharmaceutical companies will no longer sell their drugs to prisons for lethal injections. Forty-eight inmates are on death row. Gas inhalation would be the state's primary execution method if approved, officials said Wednesday.

Some states have used the gas chamber in decades past, but that involved dropping pellets of poison like cyanide into acid, enveloping the inmate in vapor and causing a gruesome and sometimes protracted death.

Midazolam, a benzodiazepine, was developed in the 1970s and became one of the world's most commonly used sedatives; it is used to make a prisoner unconscious and limit pain.