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Oklahoma announces 'unprecedented' execution method following shortage of legal injection drugs

Oklahoma plans to use nitrogen gas to carry out future death row executions. The state made the change partly due to a shortage of lethal injection drugs. (Zerbor/Getty Images)

Oklahoma officials tasked with carrying out the death penalty will not be deterred by a shortage of lethal injection drugs: Authorities said they plan to use nitrogen gas to carry out death row executions.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter and Corrections Director Joe M. Allbaugh made the “unprecedented” announcement even through there is no execution protocol for using nitrogen gas, the Washington Post reported Thursday.

“Executions are the most profound application of state power,” Hunter said, the Post reported. “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.”

Why are they doing this?

Oklahoma made the change partly due to a shortage of lethal injection drugs. One reason for the shortage is drugmakers’ objections to the death penalty, according to the report.

Dale A. Baich, an attorney who’s challenging the state’s execution protocol on behalf of 20 Oklahoma death-row prisoners, called upon state leaders to be “completely transparent” as it develops the new method, the report stated.

“This method has never been used before and is experimental,” Baich told the Post. “Oklahoma is once again asking us to trust it as officials ‘learn-on-the-job,’ through a new execution procedure and method. How can we trust Oklahoma to get this right when the state’s recent history reveals a culture of carelessness and mistakes in executions?”

What else has Oklahoma done?

In 2014, Oklahoma made international headlines for its execution of Clayton Lockett. He struggled for 20 minutes before the execution was called off. He later died of a heart attack shortly after, according to published reports. The botched execution was blamed on a malfunctioning IV.

In 2015, Oklahoma used the wrong drug in the lethal injection death of Charles Warner. The admission came after the state called off another execution because it had obtained the wrong drug, the report stated.

Oklahoma has not carried out an execution since then, according to the report.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the state’s lethal injection practices, but executions were placed on hold during a grand jury probe of how officials had used a wrong drug to execute an inmate.

Robert Patton, the former Department of Corrections director who presided over the two botched executions, resigned during the investigation.

Scott Pruitt, who served as Oklahoma’s state attorney general at the time, called the executions “careless, cavalier and in some circumstances dismissive of established procedures.”

In April 2015, Oklahoma adopted nitrogen gas inhalation as its backup — not primary — method of execution.

Oklahoma voters in 2016 strongly supported a measure that gives lawmakers the ability to carry out any “constitutional” means of execution.

Hunter said the state wants “to utilize an effective and humane manner that satisfies both the Constitution and the court system.”

Use of the death penalty has declined, although a handful of states still carry out executions, the Post reported. But states still performing executions face a growing shortage of lethal injection chemicals.

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