Ohio could use nitrogen execution under bill backed by state's Republican attorney general

ByJULIE CARR SMYTH AP logo
Tuesday, January 30, 2024
What is nitrogen hypoxia? Alabama executes Kenneth Smith with nitrogen gas, the first time the new method has been used
Alabama executed a convicted murderer with nitrogen gas Thursday, putting him to death with a first-of-its-kind method that once again put the U.S.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio's Republican attorney general put his weight behind a legislative effort Tuesday that would bring nitrogen gas executions to the state, ending a yearslong unofficial death penalty moratorium.

Attorney General Dave Yost made remarks in a news conference about a bill sponsored by Republican state Reps. Brian Stewart and Phil Plummer. It would require that the nitrogen hypoxia pioneered in Alabama last week be used in cases where lethal injection drugs are not available.

Ohio hasn't executed anyone since 2018. In 2020, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine declared lethal injection "no longer an option," citing a federal judge's ruling that the protocol could cause inmates "severe pain and needless suffering."

Stewart said the legislation, introduced Tuesday, would give condemned inmates a choice between lethal injection and nitrogen gas, but would require nitrogen gas to be used if lethal injection drugs are not available.

He criticized DeWine for delaying so many executions over pharmaceutical companies' unwillingness to see their products used to put people to death. He noted that Florida and the federal government have continued administering lethal injections while Ohio's unofficial pause has been in place.

Yost noted that the federal government had a stockpile of drugs, putting it in a different position than Ohio.

Yost had previously expressed support for the nitrogen gas method, used for the first time in Alabama last week, when convicted murderer Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, was put to death with nitrogen gas administered through a face mask to deprive him of oxygen.

The execution took about 22 minutes from the time between the opening and closing of curtains to the viewing room. Smith seemed to remain conscious for several minutes. For at least two minutes, he appeared to shake and writhe on the gurney, sometimes pulling against the restraints.

State officials in Alabama said the process was humane and effective, while critics called it cruel and experimental.

SEE MORE: Alabama man shook violently on gurney during first-ever nitrogen gas execution

"Perhaps nitrogen - widely available and easy to manufacture - can break the impasse of unavailability of drugs for lethal injection," Yost wrote on X on Friday, the day after Alabama executed Smith. "Death row inmates are in greater danger of dying of old age than their sentence."

Ohio's last execution was on July 18, 2018, when Robert Van Hook was put to death by lethal injection for killing a man he met in a Cincinnati bar in 1985. His was the 56th execution since 1999.

The state has since faced challenges finding the chemicals for lethal injection.

Certain lawmakers of both political parties have consistently pushed bills over the years to eliminate the state's death penalty, including a measure introduced this session.

It's an option that DeWine - who helped write the state's current law, enacted in 1981 - has stopped short of supporting.

As time has passed, however, the governor has questioned the death penalty's value because of the long delays that elapse between crime and punishment. He told The Associated Press during a year-end interview last month that he was not prepared to announce whether he would support an outright repeal.

"I did make it clear a few years ago that we could not carry out executions in the state of Ohio under the current law," he said. "There's been really no movement in the state Legislature to come up with a different way of execution." He said that would have been "the logical thing," if support were there for continuing the practice.

Ohio has 118 men and one woman on death row, according to the most recent state report.

The video in the player above is from an earlier report.