Alabama killed an inmate with an experimental execution method. Ohio could be next.

After Alabama’s gruesome nitrogen hypoxia execution of inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith last week, it appears another state may adopt the method in an effort to resume executing inmates after lethal injection drugs became almost impossible to obtain.

The bill, not yet nominated, was introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives on Tuesday, and state Attorney General Dave Yost has already given his support. It would allow inmates to choose between lethal injection and nitrogen hypoxia, but would require nitrogen when lethal injection drugs are not available.

The latter is the exact situation Ohio has found itself in in recent years. The state hasn’t killed a death row inmate since 2018, and Republican Gov. Mike DeWine went so far as to do so in 2020 To say that lethal injection was “impossible today from a practical point of view” due to the difficulty of obtaining the drugs.

But death from nitrogen hypoxia still brings great concern for the suffering of prisoners. The method, which involves applying a tight mask to the inmate’s face and slowly replacing oxygen with nitrogen, causing death by suffocation, is experimental. Smith, who was declared dead after being forced to breathe only nitrogen for around 15 minutes, is believed to be the first person in the world executed in this way. While Alabama prison officials said the execution went as planned, witnesses reported that Smith “struggled against his restraints” and was “shaking and writhing on a stretcher.”

The details of Smith’s death have not slowed down Ohio Republicans, who appear to see the execution method as a useful way to end the state’s six-year moratorium on executions.

“There must be accountability for offenders convicted of the most heinous crimes and for prisoners who continue to break the law behind bars,” Yost said in a news release Tuesday. “The search for justice is a journey and the conclusion remains elusive for victims’ families until the sentence is fully carried out. Ensuring that consequences are in line with the severity of a crime is essential to providing comfort to grieving relatives “.

Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville), who introduced the bill, echoed Yost’s comments, arguing, “As long as capital punishment remains the law in Ohio, the law should be followed.” Stewart added that “providing an additional method to carry out capital punishment is necessary to ensure that Ohio can continue to impose these sentences in response to the most heinous crimes committed in our state.”

For death penalty opponents, many of whom have seen the growing difficulty of obtaining lethal injection drugs as a sign that the practice may be in decline in the United States, the introduction of nitrogen hypoxia executions is news worrying. If states follow Alabama’s example and begin executing death row inmates by suffocation rather than hard-to-find drugs, it is possible that executions will increase in the coming years.

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