Bill That Would Legalize Nitrogen Gas Executions Overwhelmingly Approved By Oklahoma House

Oklahoma Is One Step Closer To Allowing Nitrogen Gas Executions
'The Oklahoma State Capitol under a deep blue sky.For more Oklahoma City images, see:'
'The Oklahoma State Capitol under a deep blue sky.For more Oklahoma City images, see:'

Oklahoma would become the first state in the nation to allow execution by nitrogen gas under a bill that overwhelmingly passed the state House with no debate Tuesday.

Members of the Oklahoma House voted 85-10 in favor of legalizing “nitrogen hypoxia" -- which causes death by depleting the oxygen supply in the blood -- as a gas chamber alternative to poisonous hydrogen cyanide gas. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

"It's revolutionary," Rep. Mike Christian (R-Oklahoma City) who sponsored HB 1879, said of the nitrogen hypoxia method when speaking to The Huffington Post by phone Tuesday. "If Oklahoma is a state that does executions, we can find a better, humane way to carry them out."

He told HuffPost he got the idea from a 2014 Slate article. Execution by nitrogen gas currently is not a state-sanctioned method anywhere in the world, the piece notes.

Dr. Joel Zivot, assistant professor of anesthesiology and surgery at Emory University School of Medicine, previously told HuffPost that it's ethically impossible for a doctor to conduct tests -- and therefore reach conclusions -- on execution procedures.

"No physician is an expert in killing, and medicine doesn’t position itself intentionally in taking a life," Zivot said. "There’s no therapeutic use of nitrogen gas, and there’s no way to ethically or practically test if nitrogen gas is a humane alternative."

Christian said he and the bill's supporters are optimistic about the future of nitrogen hypoxia -- especially as the state's current lethal injection protocol faces scrutiny by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I think most of people I’ve talked to across the country think that lethal injection is probably on the way out," Christian added.

Lethal injection is currently the state's primary execution method, though legal challenges to the constitutionality of the drug have cropped up in the wake of botched executions, like that of inmate Clayton Lockett in 2014. On Jan. 28, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the executions of three Oklahoma death row inmates until it can evaluate the state's lethal injection protocol.

The proposed nitrogen gas method would be a backup method should Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol be declared unconstitutional or if the department of corrections is unable to maintain the drug supply.

Electrocution is currently Oklahoma's second alternative method -- one Christian said he'd be interested in striking out altogether.

"I don’t see why there’s any need to have the electric chair in the 21st century," Christian said.

The Oklahoma Senate has a companion bill that has already cleared the judiciary committee.

"They have the same language," Christian said. "We'll see which one crosses the finish line first."

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South Carolina Department of Corrections
NAME: Edward Lee Elmore
STATE: South Carolina

In 1982, Dorothy Edwards of Greenwood, South Carolina, an elderly white woman beloved by her community, was brutally murdered and raped in her home. Edwards' neighbor offered up Elmore, her handyman, as the perpetrator of the crime, even as he maintained his innocence. Elmore was arrested, went to trial 82 days later, and received a death sentence -- a conviction that he received three times as appeal courts overturned each verdict. The case was riddled with bad (even planted) evidence, an incompetent defense, a tainted crime scene, and police coverups. He spent 29 years on death row until his defense argued that he was mentally disabled and legally could not be executed, so he was reduced to a life sentence. In 2002 -- 29 years later -- he pled guilty to murder in exchange for release.

NAME: Krishna Maharaj
STATE: Florida

One-time millionaire and business magnate Kris Maharaj was convicted on two counts of murder in 1987. The case was plagued by covered-up evidence, false eyewitness accounts, and a shoddy defense (who didn't call any of his many witnesses to the stand as a "tactical" maneuver). Clive Stafford Smith has worked on this case for years, and in 2002, succeeded in commuting Maharaj’s death sentence to a life term following serious misconduct on the part of the judge and prosecution. Smith continues to fight for Maharaj's release, saying: “It is unfathomable to most rational people that the US Supreme Court says that innocence is not a reason to set a prisoner free. That Kris has spent 10,000 days in prison for a crime he did not commit is little more than legal kidnapping.”

Florida Department of Corrections
NAME: Manuel Valle
STATE: Florida
EXECUTED: 9/28/11
LAST MEAL: Fried chicken breast, white rice, garlic toast, peach cobbler and a Coca-Cola.

Manuel Valle killed a police officer in Coral Gables, Florida, in 1978 after being stopped for a traffic violation. In the dissenting opinion of Valle v. Florida, Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer stated that the inmate's long stay on death row amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. He said, "I have little doubt about the cruelty of so long a period of incarceration under sentence of death."
Georgia Department of Corrections
NAME: Jack Alderman
STATE: Georgia
EXECUTED: 9/16/08
LAST MEAL: Did not request a last meal. Ate regular prison meal of baked fish, peas, cole slaw, carrots, cheese grits, bun, fruit juice and chocolate cake.

Jack Alderman was convicted in 1975 of killing his wife, Barbara Jean Alderman. At the time of his execution, he was the longest-serving death row prisoner who had been executed in the United States.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice
NAME: David Lee Powell
STATE: Texas
EXECUTED: 6/15/2010
LAST MEAL: Four eggs, four chicken drumsticks, salsa, four jalapeno peppers, lettuce, tortillas, hashbrowns, garlic bread, two pork chops, white and yellow grated cheese, sliced onions and tomatoes, a pitcher of milk and a vanilla shake.

In May 1978, Powell fatally shot 26-year-old Austin police officer Ralph Ablanedo 10 times after he and his girlfriend were pulled over for missing a rear license plate. The two were on the way to a drug deal at the time of the crime. Opponents to his execution cited his exemplary behavior in prison and argued that he was no longer a threat to society, which is a legal requirement for capital punishment. Thirty-one years, three trials, and multiple appeals later, he died by lethal injection.

He spent the longest time on death row of anyone in Texas since the state resumed death penalty executions in 1982.
NAME: Gary Alvord
STATE: Florida
EXECUTED: Died of brain tumor in 2013

In 1974, Gary Alvord was sentenced to death for strangling three women in their home in Tampa, Florida after he escaped from a mental hospital. Although Alvord faced execution several times, his history of mental illness prevented the sentence from being carried out. Last year, after 43 years on death row, he died of natural causes. In the time he spent awaiting execution, 74 other inmates were sent to their deaths. Bill Sheppard, who represented Alvord, has said: “Gary is a product of a sick system. He was a living example of why we should not have the death penalty.... I would love for the state of Florida to tell us how much money they wasted trying to kill a guy they couldn't kill."
Death Penalty Information Center
NAME: Reginald Griffin
STATE: Missouri

Reginald Griffin was implicated in the 1983 stabbing death of a fellow inmate at the Moberly Correctional Center in Moberly, Missouri, where he was serving time for an armed assault conviction. He along with two other inmates were charged with capital murder in 1987. There was no physical evidence linking Griffin to the crime, and in subsequent trials, the two inmates who served as witnesses for the prosecution in were offered benefits to testify. In 2011, the Missouri Supreme Court found that the state had withheld critical evidence and overturned Griffin's conviction. In 2013, all charges were dismissed. Upon his release, Cindy Short, one of his attorneys, said: "We humans are flawed, and those flaws have led to wrongful arrests, wrongful convictions and, unfortunately, this situation where time and time again you see prosecutors holding onto cases, even when evidence of innocence is clear."
NAME: Michael Selsor
STATE: Oklahoma
EXECUTED: 5/1/12
LAST MEAL: Kentucky Fried Chicken’s crispy two breast and one wing meal with potato wedges and baked beans, a chicken thigh, apple turnover, two biscuits and honey, salt, pepper and ketchup.

In 1975, Michael Selsor shot gas-station clerk Clayton Chandler six times during a robbery in Tulsa, Oklahoma along with his accomplice, Richard Eugene Dodson. Although he was tried by a jury and sentenced to death in 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court and Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled the death penalty unconstitutional later that year. Selsor's conviction was overturned by the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1996; however, his 1998 retrial ended in another death sentence. After 36 years, Selsor was executed in Oklahoma by lethal injection.

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