Oklahoma is set to become the first state in the country to use nitrogen gas to carry out the death penalty, The Oklahoman reports. 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.
In 2015, Oklahoma passed a law allowing nitrogen to be used in executions if the lethal injection was ever ruled unconstitutional, or if the drugs became unavailable. In 2016, the state's grand jury recommended such a step be taken, as Oklahoma has had difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs. "I was calling all around the world, to the back streets of the Indian sub-continent," Oklahoma Corrections Department Director Joe Allbaugh claimed to The Associated Press.
Prior to the 2015 decision, the electric chair and firing squad would have been the backup options to the lethal injection in Oklahoma, The Washington Post reports. Allbaugh told reporters that "I'm not worried about anything" when asked about being the first state in the nation to use nitrogen for executions, BuzzFeed News reports. The state's attorney general, Mike Hunter, cited the use of nitrogen in assisted suicides as proof that it is humane.
Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, expressed doubts about the method in 2015, when the law was being changed to allow for nitrogen executions. "I think that Oklahoma has acted first and thought second in the manner it's gone about conducting executions," he told the Post at the time. "And the hasty manner in which this bill sped into law reflects the same lack of care with which Oklahoma has managed its execution process historically."
The Oklahoman writes that "executions could resume no earlier than the end of the year."