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Oklahoma to use nitrogen gas for executions

By Danielle Haynes

March 14 (UPI) -- The state of Oklahoma will use nitrogen gas inhalation as its primary method of execution, the state's attorney general announced Wednesday.

Attorney General Mike Hunter and Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh said Oklahoma will use the new method once a execution protocol is finalized. The move comes after the state had difficulty obtaining the drugs it used in its lethal injection protocol and put a moratorium on executions in 2015.

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"Executions are the most profound application of state power," Hunter said. "I believe in justice for victims and their families, and in capital punishment as appropriate for dealing with those whose commit these crimes. Using an inert gas will be effective, simple to administer, easy to obtain and requires no complex medical procedures.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the announcement was "deeply troubling."

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"In the time since a moratorium was placed on executions, the state has done absolutely nothing to inspire confidence that they are now able to successfully exercise the ultimate power of any government," said Ryan Kiesel, director of the ACLU in Oklahoma. "Instead, in this time Oklahoma's leaders have demonstrated new levels of incompetence. Now, these same politicians are drafting plans to kill human beings with methods that are unproven and untested among enlightened societies."

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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.

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

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In April 2015, Oklahoma's Senate passed a law allowing the corrections department to use nitrogen gas as a method of execution after the state faced legal challenges to its use of midazolam, a general anesthetic. The U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the execution of Clayton Lockett, who, after receiving an injection including midazolam, 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 in April 2014.

Oklahoma's last execution was in January 2015, Charles Warner. There were 48 people on death row in Oklahoma as of late February.

"The victims of death row inmates have waited long enough for justice," Allbaugh said. "Trying to find alternative compounds or someone with prescribing authority willing to provide us with the drugs is becoming exceedingly difficult, and we will not attempt to obtain the drugs illegally."

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