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Head Of Prosecutors' Group Calls For Nitrogen As Possible Execution Method

Ron Corby, OGT
The bed in the "death house" at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.

There haven’t been any executions in Ohio for almost three years. The state hasn’t been able to get the lethal injection drugs needed to carry out those death sentences. But there’s a suggestion that a widely used and available gas could be used as a substitute.

The Ohio Association of Prosecuting Attorneys favors the death penalty and its chief, John Murphy, thinks it ought to be retained as a form of punishment in Ohio. But Murphy also has a personal opinion on the issue. The state has been unable to get execution drugs, and the backup method that was used in the execution of Dennis McGuire in 2014 proved so controversial the prisons department has decided not to use it again. Murphy said if the state is going to retain the death penalty, it needs to come up with an efficient and readily available method to carry out the executions. And he’s suggesting using nitrogen gas. “It’s a gas that essentially puts you to sleep which seems to me very humane and inexpensive from what I understand and easy to administer," Murphy said. "If we are going keep the death penalty, I think we ought to get a better method of execution and this seems like a promising alternative so I think we ought to take a serious look at it.” Lethal amounts of the nitrogen gas could be administered through a mask. Other states that are also having trouble getting execution drugs are also looking at that option.

But some think the method of execution isn’t the big question that should be asked. “They want to resume executions as soon as they can without taking steps to reform the system,” said Abe Bonowitz with Ohioans to Stop Executions. He said public support for the death penalty is dwindling. Bonowitz said the state should enact all 58 recommendations of a 2014 Ohio Supreme Court task force that addresses fairness and disparities between counties that prosecute death penalty cases. He said justice in Ohio should not hinge on the whims of a single elected official. “Job one should have been to implement these reforms, not monkey around with the way executions are carried out. You know, we think the death penalty is a relic of the past and we don’t need executions to hold killers accountable and be safe from them. We just think there is a better way and we think any Ohioan who is actually aware of what’s happening and where the system fails us would agree,” Bonowitz said.

Changing the state’s execution method would require approval from lawmakers and the state legislature won’t be back in full force until after the November election. A written statement from prisons department spokeswoman JoEllen Smith says the agency continues to seek all legal means to obtain the drugs necessary to carry out court ordered executions and adds the process has included multiple options.

Contact Jo Ingles at
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