Oklahoma officials announced a plan to use nitrogen gas to execute inmates once the state resumes using the death penalty, marking the first time a USA state would use the gas to carry out capital punishment.
Attorney General Mike Hunter and Joe Allbaugh, the director of the Oklahoma Corrections Department, made the announcement Wednesday at a news conference at the Capitol.
The state intends to adopt the new execution method as prison officials are unable to acquire the necessary drugs for lethal injections - the method now employed by all American states that carry out the death penalty.
Executions in the state have been on hold since 2015 due to a series of problems with lethal injection drugs, including a particularly disturbing 2014 case in which an inmate "began to twitch and gasp" after the drug was administered, ultimately dying from a heart attack.
Hunter's office said that making nitrogen gas the state's primary method of execution, rather than a backup, was a result of the state's inability to obtain lethal injection drugs. The change comes after issues locating the drugs used for the lethal injection process.
Oklahoma has not carried out an execution in more than three years following high-profile mistakes involving lethal injections.
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In 2014, Oklahoma drew intense scrutiny for its death-penalty procedures after the execution of Clayton Lockett gained worldwide attention.
"It is a common procedure in states and in countries that allow for assisted suicide", Hunter said.
Death penalty policy experts said that if a federal court approved the method, it would take at least six months - and probably longer - for such an execution to be carried out.
Meanwhile, 17 death row inmates have exhausted all appeals and are awaiting execution dates, Hunter said. He said state leaders had to "to utilize an effective and humane manner that satisfies both the Constitution and the court system".
There's a nationwide shortage of an anesthetic component of a three-part mixture used in some lethal injections. A bill that would make the electric chair the state's default execution method is now before the House Committee on the Judiciary. When nitrogen gas was approved as a backup method in Oklahoma, the corrections department said there was no protocol in place, and that remained the case Wednesday, almost two years later.