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Oklahoma Senate considers nitrogen gas as execution method

By Danielle Haynes
Oklahoma Senate considers nitrogen gas as execution method
The Oklahoma Senate will consider a bill that would make nitrogen gas the preferred method of execution in the state if lethal injection isn't an option. File photo by val lawless/Shutterstock

OKLAHOMA CITY, March 24 (UPI) -- Oklahoma is one step closer to being the next state to allow alternate methods of execution as correctional departments increasingly run out of lethal injection drugs.

The Oklahoma Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday sent a bill to the full Senate that, if passed, would allow the state to execute death-row inmates using nitrogen gas.

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The legislation, sponsored by Republicans Rep. Mike Christian and Sen. Anthony Sykes, advanced with a 8-0 vote without any debate in the committee.

Under the proposed law, if the state's primary method of execution, lethal injection, is found unconstitutional, then the second method would be death by nitrogen gas -- nitrogen hypoxia -- and the second method would be electrocution. The state's current protocol is lethal injection, electrocution, then firing squad.

RELATED Utah approves firing squad if lethal injection unavailable

The use of nitrogen gas causes a person to black out and eventually die.

"It meets all the constitutional requirements that prohibit cruel and unusual punishment," Sen. Brian Crain, a Republican, said of his support for the measure.

Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol -- specifically its use of midazolam, a general anesthetic -- is scheduled to be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court after what critics are calling the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in April.

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After receiving an injection including midazolam, Lockett had convulsions and reportedly tried to speak and lift his head even after doctors declared him unconscious. It took him 43 minutes to die after the injection.

The Supreme Court has stayed three Oklahoma executions pending its ruling, slotted to take place in April.

Executions in the United States have undergone some changes in recent years after states started running out of the essential lethal injection drug pentobarbital. 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.

RELATED Convicted cop-killer who lost part of brain in accident asks for execution halt

Now states are being forced to use new drug cocktails, scramble to restock their stores of drugs and review their lethal injection policies.

On Monday, Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert signed into law legislation that allows the state to use the firing squad for executions if lethal injection drugs aren't available.

RELATED Alabama House votes to reintroduce electric chair, keep lethal injection drug makers secret

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