Oklahoma to use gas chambers in meting out death penalty

The issue came to the fore in recent months after a botched execution of an inmate, Clayton Lockett.

February 11, 2015 10:57
2 minute read.
A lethal injection room at San Quentin Prison in California

A lethal injection room at San Quentin Prison in California. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Oklahoma appears to be on the verge of approving a bill that would institute the use of gas chambers as a means to execute convicts on death row.

According to KFOR, a local Oklahoma City television station, the state’s House Committee passed a measure that would make the Sooner State the first in the Union to execute inmates with the use of nitrogen gas.

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The issue came to the fore in recent months after a botched execution of an inmate, Clayton Lockett.

Lockett, who in 2000 was convicted in an Oklahoma court of murder, rape, and kidnapping, was administered an untested cocktail of drugs via injection, resulting in a heart attack. He died just under an hour later.

The Lockett case prompted calls for authorities to employ a more humane method of executing inmates.

According to an Oklahoma state lawmaker, convicts would inhale nitrogen gas either through a mask or a hood, resulting in a loss of consciousness within seconds.

This past July, an Arizona inmate took almost two hours to die by lethal injection.

His lawyers said he "gasped and snorted" before succumbing in the latest botched execution to raise questions about the death penalty in the United States.

The execution of convicted double murderer Joseph Wood began at 1:52 p.m. at a state prison complex, and the 55-year-old was pronounced dead just shy of two hours later at 3:49 p.m., the Arizona attorney general's office said.

During that time, his lawyers filed an unsuccessful emergency appeal to multiple federal courts that sought to have the execution halted and their client given life-saving medical treatment.

The appeal, which said the procedure violated his constitutional right to be executed without suffering cruel and unusual punishment, was denied by Justice Anthony Kennedy of the US Supreme Court.

"He gasped and struggled to breathe for about an hour and 40 minutes," said one of Wood's attorneys, Dale Baich.

"Arizona appears to have joined several other states who have been responsible for an entirely preventable horror: a bungled execution. The public should hold its officials responsible."

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer expressed concern over how long the procedure took and ordered the state's Department of Corrections to conduct a full review, but said justice had been done and that the execution was lawful.

"One thing is certain, however, inmate Wood died in a lawful manner and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer," the Republican governor said in a statement.

"This is in stark comparison to the gruesome, vicious suffering that he inflicted on his two victims, and the lifetime of suffering he has caused their family."

An Arizona Republic journalist who witnessed the execution said he counted the inmate gasping for breath about 660 times.

"I just know it was not efficient," said the reporter, Michael Kiefer. "It took a long time."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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