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OK Grand Jury Finds Warner Execution Humane, Recommends Study of Nitrogen

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In Oklahoma, a grand jury has released its report on the problems with executions by lethal injection in that state and the substitution of potassium acetate for potassium chloride.  There are numerous procedural errors detailed in the report, and opponents of the death penalty are having a field day with them.  However, this should not obscure the "bottom line" finding on the execution of Charles Warner (emphasis added):

Warner's death was intentionally inflicted by correctional officers acting pursuant to a Death Warrant issued by the District Court in State of Oklahoma v. Charles Fredrick Warner, Oklahoma County Case No. CF-1997-5249.  The execution, which involved the administration of midazolam, rocuronium bromide, and potassium acetate, was completed in a manner consistent with the Death Warrant and statutory authority. The intravenous administration of the three-drug cocktail to Warner resulted in his humane death within eighteen minutes of the commencement of the sequential administration of these drugs. There is no evidence the manner of the execution caused Warner any needless pain. Nevertheless, his execution was not administered in compliance with the Department's Protocol or in a manner allowing Warner to challenge the procedure prior to his death.

Going forward, the grand jury recommended further research on the use of nitrogen, recently authorized by the legislature:

During this session, the Multicounty Grand Jury also heard testimony from Doctor A and Professor A regarding the viability of nitrogen hypoxia as an alternate method of execution. In 2015, the Oklahoma State Legislature added this method as the first alternative after lethal injection. According to the statute, in the event lethal injection is held unconstitutional or is otherwise unavailable, the death sentence can be carried out by nitrogen hypoxia.

Both Doctor A and Professor A testified executions carried out by nitrogen hypoxia would be humane, and as nitrogen is the most abundant element in our atmosphere, the components for execution via nitrogen hypoxia would be easy and inexpensive to obtain. Nitrogen is also simple to administer. The scientific research regarding nitrogen hypoxia has shown this method of execution would be quick and seemingly painless. In addition to scientific research, Professor A explained that high altitude pilots who train to recognize the symptoms of nitrogen hypoxia in airplane depressurizations do not report any feelings of suffocation, choking, or gagging. Doctor A testified that a person in a nitrogen-induced hypoxic state would lose consciousness quickly, and the heart would cease to beat within a few minutes. At present, however, no State has implemented the death penalty through nitrogen hypoxia, although it is an approved method of execution in Oklahoma.

Since Oklahoma would be the first State to conduct executions by nitrogen hypoxia, it is the recommendation of the Multicounty Grand Jury that further research, including a best practices study, be conducted to determine how to carry out the sentence of death by this method. To that end, the Multicounty Grand Jury recommends the Department retain experts to advise the State regarding the best method for carrying out executions by nitrogen hypoxia with the goal of developing a nitrogen hypoxia protocol. However, while the Department begins its study into nitrogen hypoxia as a viable method of execution, the State of Oklahoma should still seek to carry out executions by lethal injection and improve upon its current protocol.

The usual suspects are predictably crying "nitrogen has never been used for execution."  Of course, somebody has to be first for that specific application.  The effects are known, though, from accidents, suicide, and animal euthanasia.

I have italicized one sentence in the block quote above.  The word "nitrogen" should not be in that sentence, but otherwise I know this to be true from personal experience.

Hypoxia in altitude training chambers is caused by the reduction in pressure of nitrogen and oxygen together, maintaining the ratio the same.  Take my word for it, it doesn't hurt a bit.  Nitrogen hypoxia is caused by increasing the nitrogen portion of the mix while maintaining ambient atmospheric pressure.   We know from accidents that it causes people to lose consciousness before they are even aware anything is happening.

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