[JURIST] Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin [official website] on Friday signed into law a bill [HB 1879, PDF] that allows for the use of nitrogen gas in executions if lethal injection is ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court [official website], or if the drugs become unavailable. Under this new method, nitrogen would be delivered via face mask, depriving the inmate of oxygen. The nitrogen gas method supplants the old alternative methods of electric chair or firing squad. Fallin stated [remarks], “I support that policy, and I believe capital punishment must be performed effectively and without cruelty. The bill I signed today gives the state of Oklahoma another death penalty option that meets that standard.” Executions in Oklahoma have been put on hold while the US Supreme Court considers Glossip v. Gross [SCOTUSblog backgrounder], a case determining whether the state’s three-drug method of lethal injection violates the Eighth Amendment’s [text] prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Lethal injection [JURIST archive] and execution methods have been at the forefront of the death penalty debate for the past few years. Earlier this month the Delaware Senate voted to repeal [JURIST report] the death penalty, but the legislation includes an exemption for the 15 inmates currently on Delaware’s death row. In March Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a bill [JURIST report] to restore the firing squad as a method of execution, making Utah one of the few states with that option. Like in Oklahoma, if drugs used for lethal injections are unavailable, a firing squad would be allowed. Also last month more than a dozen [JURIST report] former state attorneys general asked the US Supreme Court to rule Oklahoma’s use of the three-drug execution cocktail unconstitutional. Oklahoma became the face [JURIST report] of the legal injection drug debate last year after death row inmate Clayton Lockett died of an apparent heart attack shortly after doctors called off a failed attempt to execute him using a lethal injection drug called midazolam.