US state mulls using untried execution method — Analysis

Authorities in Alabama suggest that nitrogen hypoxia may be used instead of lethal injection for execution of a death sentence.

A US attorney suggested Monday to a court that Alabama might use a novel and untested method of execution in order to force capital punishment against an inmate.

James Houts (a deputy state attorney General) says nitrogen hypoxia could be used in the execution of Alan Eugene Miller’s death sentence. Miller was convicted in 1999 for killing three people in a workplace shooting. Current execution is scheduled for September 22 via lethal injection.

By replacing oxygen with nitrogen, Nitrogen Hypoxia can kill. A mask, or plastic hood may be required for death row prisoners to breathe in nitrogen. They will feel no pain and then succumb to it within minutes. Alabama, two American states have approved this method for executions. However, it has not been tried.

Miller attempted to stop Miller from enforcing the sentence at a recent court hearing. According to the 57-year old inmate, the paperwork that allowed him to choose another method of execution was lost by the correctional officer four years earlier.

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The document indicates that this convict chose the unconventional execution method to replace a traditional lethal injection because of his fear of needles. The Alabama attorney general’s office argued there is no evidence this had ever happened.

Houts states that Corrections Commissioner John Hamm has the final say on whether or not to permit the untested method. This could lead to litigation.

Houts claimed that Miller had been offered by authorities a nitrogen-use mask, but he declined. Moreover, Miller’s lawyer indicated that his legal team wants more information on nitrogen hypoxia, adding that they do not want their client to be the test subject for the new method.

It is humane to use nitrogen hypoxia as a method of executing death sentences. However, there are still some uncertainties. It is not clear how inmates could be made to inhale deadly gases, how they would react if they refused to, or how guards and visitors can protect themselves from the toxic fumes.

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