Okla. lawmakers consider different method to execute death row inmates

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Oklahoma became the first state to allow lethal injection as a method of execution for death row inmates back in 1977, but after the botched execution of Clayton Lockett this past April, some state lawmakers are considering using a different method to execute death row inmates.

They're even turning to a local university to research one option.

State Representative Mike Christian of Oklahoma City suggests using nitrogen gas for executions. Christian says it would be painless for inmates and affordable for Oklahoma.

Local State Representative Pat Ownbey says he's in favor of a more humane method, and wants to see more research on the gas.
Now, several professors at East Central University in Ada will take on the task.

"One of the problems not only in Oklahoma but in other states, is these drugs are used in other states that have the death penalty and the drugs are hard to find; it I more difficult. That is one of the reason this is taking place," Ownbey said.

State Representative Pat Ownbey says nitrogen gas is extremely easy to find and much cheaper than the drugs used in current executions. But the main goal is to keep the execution as humane as possible.

"They would fill a small room with nitrogen while basically depleting the oxygen and they would pass away that way,” Ownbey said. “Putting the drug in the arm through lethal injection sometimes doesn't get in the right vein."

Christian has organized a team of researchers at East Central University to study the gas and its effects. Professor Michael Copeland claims nitrogen hypoxia will make people feel euphoric or drunk. If a person inhales nitrogen gas, the person will quickly become unconscious and die within minutes.

"It does seem like that would be a very humane way to carry out that sentence," Ownbey said. "But we are still going over everything and looking for all the facts. I know we will be going over this and talking with doctors before any decision is made."

But, opponents to the death penalty, like attorney Jason May, say there is no humane way to kill someone. "There are countless instances in our nation’s history where a person found guilty by a judge or jury who were later exonerated had been executed," May said. "There is obviously nothing that can be done to make that right."

Lawmakers hope to address the issue when the legislature reconvenes in February.