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Alabama Must Be Open About its Nitrogen Hypoxia Executions

State attorney stated it was "extremely likely" that nitrogen hypoxia will be used the next week, but the state prison commissioner has the final word

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Sadaf Hasan
Sadaf Hasan
Aspiring reporter covering trending topics

UNITED STATES: Alabama has been ordered by a federal judge to cease evading the question of whether the prison system is prepared to utilise nitrogen hypoxia, an as-yet unproven technique of death, for a scheduled execution next week and to provide a solid response by Thursday evening.

The state has until September 21 to submit an affidavit, or declaration, stating whether it intends to try to execute inmate Alan Miller by nitrogen hypoxia on September 22 if the use of lethal injection is prohibited, according to U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker, Jr.

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The decision was made after the state hinted that it would be prepared to conduct a nitrogen hypoxia execution as the first state at a court hearing on Monday.

On Monday, the judge questioned the state over its readiness to apply the technique at Miller’s execution. In response, a state attorney stated it was “extremely likely” that nitrogen hypoxia will be used the next week, but the state prison commissioner has the final word.

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Execution method

In a technique of execution called nitrogen hypoxia, the prisoner would be forced to breathe only nitrogen, depriving them of the oxygen they require to maintain their vital functions. Although it is legal to employ as a means of execution in three states, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Mississippi but it has never been used.

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The state, in the words of Huffaker, “made vague and imprecise representations regarding the preparedness and purpose to proceed with an execution on September 22, 2022, using nitrogen hypoxia.”

“The Defendants shall file an affidavit or declaration of Commissioner John Q. Hamm, Attorney General Steve Marshall, or other appropriate officials with personal knowledge, definitively setting forth whether or not the Defendants can execute the Plaintiff by nitrogen hypoxia on September 22, 2022,” the judge ordered in a ruling on Tuesday.

Miller claims prison staff lost paperwork indicating he returned in 2018 and selected nitrogen hypoxia as his execution method. He is attempting to stop his upcoming lethal injection execution.

Since Miller chose nitrogen hypoxia as his method of execution, he admitted in court on Monday that he is afraid of needles. For a jail guard to pick up the form, he claimed to have left it in his cell door tray. No supporting proof, according to the state, exists for his assertion.

Miller, a delivery truck driver, was found guilty in the suburban Birmingham workplace killings of Lee Holdbrooks, Scott Yancy, and Terry Jarvis in 1999. According to the evidence, Miller shot Holdbrooks and Yancy at one place of business before shooting Jarvis at another.

Miller had a serious mental disease, according to a psychiatrist for the defence, but his ailment wasn’t severe enough to qualify as insanity under state law.

Although lethal injection will continue to be the preferred method of execution in Alabama, lawmakers enacted legislation in 2018 that enabled nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative execution technique. The short window of time allowed by state law for inmates to choose nitrogen as their method of execution. Multiple prisoners chose nitrogen.

Regarding the new execution strategy, the state has not provided much information. Last year, the Alabama Department of Corrections informed a federal judge that a “system” to utilise nitrogen gas was complete but would not provide further details.

Concerns

The unproven technique has been compared to human experimentation by critics.

Executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center Robert Dunham stated, “It has never been tested.” A protocol outlining its operation has not been made available to the public by any state.

Theoretically, it would be swift and painless, but Dunham pointed out that states previously claimed the same thing about the electric chair.

Inert gas hypoxia is permissible for the killing of chickens, turkeys, and pigs under specific circumstances, however, it is not advised for other mammals like rats, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s euthanasia recommendations.

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