Oklahoma plans to resume executions by using nitrogen or another gas to starve an inmate of oxygen because it cannot obtain the drugs needed for lethal injections, state officials said on Wednesday.
Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh said his agency is working to develop a protocol for the new method — which is certain to spark fierce legal challenges.
«The victims of death row inmates have waited long enough for justice,» Allbaugh said in a joint statement with Attorney General Mike Hunter.
«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.»
Oklahoma's botched execution
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Oklahoma is the latest state to consider alternative execution methods because pharmaceutical companies will no longer sell their drugs to prisons for lethal injections.
The state hasn’t carried out an execution in more than three years, and its last two lethal injections were bungled.
In 2014, Clayton Lockett regained consciousness during his execution because the IV wasn’t properly placed. Although Lockett ultimately died, the mistake sparked outrage and prompted the White House to order a nationwide review of procedures.
The following year, Oklahoma successfully executed Charles Warner but used potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride as the third drug. «My body is on fire,» Warner said after the injection began, according to witnesses.
Months later, the state had to cancel the execution of Richard Glossip because it had obtained the wrong drugs.
A bill signed in 2015 designated nitrogen hypoxia as the state’s backup method if lethal injection is unavailable. Officials are now moving to make it the primary protocol.
«Using an inert gas will be effective, simple to administer, easy to obtain and requires no complex medical procedures,» Hunter said.
But death penalty opponents are already expressing skepticism and calling on Oklahoma to be transparent as its preps the never-before-used method.
«Who are the experts on nitrogen and nitrogen hypoxia who will be brought in? What research has the state undertaken to ensure the safety and legality of this new process?» said Dale Baich, who represents Oklahoma death-row prisoners.
«Without complete transparency, we have no assurance that executions won’t continue to be problematic. The state should provide more answers before asking the people to trust it to carry out an execution in a humane and legal manner.»