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Oklahoma plans to resume executions, with inert gas or nitrogen

15 March 2018

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.

Executions could resume no earlier than the end of the year.

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.

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In 2016, the state's multicounty grand jury recommended Oklahoma use nitrogen gas as the execution method given the increasing difficulty in obtaining the proper drugs for lethal injections.

The Oklahoma Attorney General's Office requested an indefinite stay of executions in October 2015 after it became aware that the same incorrect drug - potassium acetate - was what the DOC had received for Richard Glossip's scheduled execution. Nitrogen is less expensive.

Oklahoma officials said they had chosen nitrogen in part because it is often used in places where assisted suicide is legal.

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DOC Director Joe Allbaugh said Wednesday that many death row inmates have been employing various methods, including dehydrating themselves, leading up to their executions that ensure challenges for the medical staff attempting lethal injection.

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. Individuals who are exposed to excessive amounts of the inert gases have reported experiencing fatigue, dizziness, headache, loss of breath and eventually consciousness, Hunter said. "Oklahoma is once again asking us to trust it as officials 'learn on the job, ' through a new execution procedure and method".

Don Heath, chair of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said he was "a little surprised" by the announcement.

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There's a nationwide shortage of an anesthetic component of a three-part mixture used in some lethal injections. But Mr. Dunham said that a morbidly ill person voluntarily dying with the aid of sedatives and surrounded by loved ones, and an inmate being put to death against his or her will, were hardly comparable. "I think that Oklahoma has acted first and thought second in the manner it's gone about conducting executions", he told the Post at the time.

Oklahoma plans to resume executions, with inert gas or nitrogen