A federal judge told Alabama to stop being vague and give a firm answer by Thursday evening on if the prison system might use the untested execution method called nitrogen hypoxia to carry out a death sentence.
The disclosure came Monday at a court hearing over inmate Alan Miller’s request to block his scheduled Sept. 22 execution by lethal injection. Miller maintains that prison staff lost paperwork he returned in 2018 requesting nitrogen hypoxia, an execution method that the state has authorized but never used.
While the Alabama attorney general’s office found no evidence of that, Miller could receive death by nitrogen hypoxia if a judge blocks the use of lethal injection.
Hypoxia is when there is not a sufficient amount of oxygen in the tissues for the body to perform its regular functions. It is different from hypoxemia, which occurs when there is low oxygen in the blood.
Nitrogen hypoxia is a form of inert gas asphyxiation. Nitrogen is safe to breathe – it makes up 78% of what we inhale – but only when mixed with suitable amounts of oxygen.
Inert gas asphyxiation uses gasses that are not typically poisonous, such as nitrogen, methane or helium, as a diluting agent for atmospheric gasses. This then reduces oxygen concentration to fatally low amounts, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.
Once oxygen levels fall below 16%, breathing becomes difficult. At 4% to 6%, a person can enter a coma in as little as 40 seconds.
Along with beheading people who committed terrible crimes, execution by electrocution is probably the most horrific way to put someone to death. The electric chair has ended the lives of many of America’s most notorious criminals.
On January 16, 1936, the electric chair even executed the so-called “Boogeyman.” But despite its ability to achieve the necessary end result, there are some unsettling things about death by electrocution. Nevertheless, along with lethal injection, the electric chair is still used in the U.S.
But the scientists working on better methods to execute a necessary evil may have discovered a new method. There is a high likelihood that Alabama will use this new method of executing death row prisoners. It’s called “nitrogen hypoxia.”
Alabama has executed 72 death row inmates since 1972. The state has one of the highest execution per capita rates in the nation. Now, Alabama may have a new method for performing a necessary evil. Many states with the death penalty will be closely watching this story.