Following Alabama’s Unprecedented Execution, Ohio Could Be The Next State To Kill With Nitrogen Gas

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Ohio lawmakers introduced a bill Tuesday that would allow the state to execute people using nitrogen gas.

The legislation, introduced by state Reps. Brian Stewart (R) and Phil Plummer (R) and backed by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R), “is aimed at kickstarting the state’s stalled capital-punishment system,” Yost’s office said in a press release.

If passed, the bill would allow people on death row to choose between execution by lethal injection or nitrogen gas, but it would require nitrogen to be used if lethal injection drugs were not available.

“Ensuring that the consequences align with the severity of an offense is essential to providing solace to grieving relatives,” Yost said ― although in reality, some victims of crime oppose the death penalty.

Death Penalty Action co-founder Abe Bonowitz accused Yost of “grandstanding on the pain of [murder victims’] families rather than actually doing something to help them.”

Ohio has not executed anyone since 2018. Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said in 2020 that lethal injection executions were “no longer an option,” after a federal magistrate judge compared the state’s execution process to a combination of waterboarding, suffocation and exposure to chemical fire.

DeWine has delayed multiple executions, citing concerns with the lethal injection process and difficulty obtaining the drugs. There have been repeated, bipartisan efforts to abolish the death penalty in Ohio, including a bill introduced last September.

DeWine’s office declined to comment for this story.

Ohio’s nitrogen execution push comes days after Alabama carried out the first ever nitrogen gas execution, killing 58-year-old Kenneth Smith, who had previously survived a botched lethal injection execution. Smith “appeared to shake and writhe on the gurney” for at least two minutes, followed by several minutes of heavy breathing, according to The Associated Press.

Alabama’s attorney general’s office had previously claimed without evidence that nitrogen was “perhaps the most humane method of execution ever devised.” Rev. Jeff Hood, Smith’s spiritual adviser who was in the execution chamber, described it as “torture.”

“It was the most horrible thing I think I’ve ever seen,” said Hood, who has witnessed five executions in the past 13 months. “I stood there and cried while I saw someone get suffocated.”

Alabama became the third state to authorize nitrogen gas executions in 2018, amid lawsuits over the constitutionality of its lethal injection protocol and problems securing the drugs. After three consecutive botched executions in 2022, Alabama rushed through a nitrogen execution protocol, using Smith as a test subject. The publicly available version of the protocol is heavily redacted.

The authors of Ohio’s nitrogen execution bill aim to maintain that level of secrecy. The proposed bill would provide indefinite confidentiality to suppliers of nitrogen and drugs used in executions.

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