Alabama May Add Nitrogen Gas As An Execution Option
A bill was recently approved that may make Alabama the third state to allow death row inmates to be executed with the use of nitrogen gas. This is an execution method that has thus far never been used. The state voted 25-8 to add nitrogen gas to the list of lethal injection procedures along with the electric chair. The bill will now be put before representatives in the Alabama House.
The rate at which executions are carried out has slowed in Alabama in part due to its traditional execution methods. Those supporting nitrogen hypoxia hope to add the option to speed up the process. Senator Trip Pittman, the Republican bill sponsor, claims the state is facing challenges regarding current methods and needs a new alternative. He had originally been a proponent of using a firing squad as one such method, but the bill was changed, eliminating this controversial option. “It’s important to have another option,” he said. “I think nitrogen hypoxia is a very humane way to implement that sentence.”
Representative Lynn Greer, a big proponent to the electric chair, said legislators need to either strengthen the current execution process and move forward or repeal the death penalty law, but she doesn’t believe people wish to do so. She thinks nitrogen gas might be the last effort. “You know we need another method other than what we have today. Utah has gone back to the firing squad, and that’s something that’s been discussed in Montgomery. We just need a backup,” Greer said. Alabama senators also approved legislation aimed at shortening the time of that death penalty appeals take.
The state corrections commissioner may elect another constitutional execution method if lethal injection, nitrogen gas and electrocution are all found to be unconstitutional. Some lawmakers have regarded the bill as experimental and have rejected the method’s implementation. “It has never been tried before,” Senator Vivian Davis Figures stated, voicing an opinion held by many. “It’s another example of inmates being used for experimental guinea pigs or lab rats, so it’s a clear violation of the Eighth Amendment,” said Katie Owens-Murphy, vice president of Project Say Something. “We are quite literally experimenting on people who were not sentenced to death and torture but were sentenced to death.” Now that the bill has moved to the house, reversing it would require inmates to raise claims of ineffective counsel and trial errors.
“No state has carried out an execution using nitrogen hypoxia,” Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center stated. However, both Mississippi and Oklahoma have made this an allowable method, and now Alabama may add the option as well. The bill states that an inmate may elect nitrogen hypoxia, or asphyxiation, over lethal injection. By choosing this alternative, the inmate would be sealed in an airtight chamber. Nitrogen gas, which is invisible, odorless and tasteless, would be pumped into the chamber, eventually causing the individual to die from a lack of oxygen.
Nitrogen comprises approximately 80 percent of the air humans breathe. It does not become lethal, however, until it is administered in concentrated doses. The procedure has been used to put animals “to sleep” for some time. A few people actually inadvertently meet their demise this way every year, as well.