Beset by claims of barbarism after a gruesome botched execution last year and fearful that a U.S. Supreme Court decision could ban its execution drug of choice, Oklahoma would be the first state in the nation to execute inmates with nitrogen gas under a bill sent Thursday to the governor.
The bill, HB 1879, would make nitrogen the second available means to carry out capital punishment, after lethal injection.
"If the execution of the sentence of death … is held unconstitutional by an appellate court of competent jurisdiction or is otherwise unavailable," the bill reads, "then the sentence of death shall be carried out by nitrogen hypoxia."
A spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin could not be reached for comment.
Nitrogen would be delivered via a mask over the nose and mouth, depriving the inmate of oxygen until death.
The new rules would go into effect Nov. 1. Under current Oklahoma law, if lethal injection isn't available the state is compelled to use an electric chair. The third option is a firing squad.
Oklahoma became the face of the fight over lethal injection drugs last year, when Clayton Lockett appeared to wake up during his execution, a sign that the drug midazolam had failed to sedate him.
Oklahoma and Florida use midazolam as a sedative in lethal injection executions. A second drug then paralyzes the inmate and a third one is used to stop the heart.
The s bill passed the Oklahoma Senate on Thursday without dissent, but legislators have their eyes on another date: The Supreme Court's hearing of Glossip vs. Gross, a case involving an Oklahoma inmate challenging the execution method as cruel and unusual. Justices are expected to render a decision in June.
The High Court in 2008 upheld the use of a lethal injection in a Kentucky case, ruling then that there was no reason to believe that officials could not carry out an execution humanely. Since then, however, Oklahoma, Ohio and Arizona have carried out executions in which the inmates seemed to writhe in pain or took hours to die.