Alabama Is Prepping an Untested Execution Method

Method has never been used for execution, but Alabama says it could soon be ready to try it
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 14, 2022 1:52 PM CDT
Alabama Is Prepping an Untested Execution Method
Officials escort murder suspect Alan Eugene Miller away from the Pelham City Jail in Ala., on Aug. 5, 1999. Miller, scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection on Sept. 22, 2022, says the state lost the paperwork he turned in selecting an alternate execution method.   (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)

Alabama says it’s preparing an untried execution method: nitrogen hypoxia. According to NPR, the method involves inert gas asphyxiation, whereby the level of nitrogen—which typically makes up about 78% of the air we breathe—is fatally raised to 100%. There’s no question hypoxia can lead to death, but it's never been tried in an execution chamber. Nevertheless, Alabama approved the method in 2018, reports the AP. At the time, a Republican sponsor of the legislation likened the process to what happens to passengers in a depressurized airplane.

Since then, the state has not released any information about how it will carry out such an execution. However, shortly after the legislation became law in 2018, the Department of Corrections distributed forms to death-row inmates allowing them to choose hypoxia over lethal injection. Inmate Alan Eugene Miller—who is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection Sept. 22 for killing three men in a 1999 workplace rampage—filed a lawsuit last month contending that he completed the form and chose hypoxia, but the state lost his form, per The state says it has no record of Miller signing the form.

In a Monday hearing over Miller's request, Deputy Atty. Gen. James Houts told a US District Court judge that it’s "very likely" the method will be available by Sept. 22, though the final determination on whether and when to use it rests with the state's Corrections Commissioner. Houts also said the state already offered to fit Miller with a mask, ostensibly to deliver the gas, but the inmate declined, reports CBS News.

Miller’s lawyer, Mara Klebaner, told the judge her team needs more information about the process and doesn’t want Miller "to be a test case for an untried execution method." Roughly 50 Alabama inmates selected nitrogen hypoxia in 2018, following a series of "troubling” lethal injections in the state, per Oklahoma also approved the use of nitrogen hypoxia in 2015, but it too has no finalized plans or protocol for using it. (Read more nitrogen hypoxia stories.)

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