Republican-backed bill would add nitrogen gas to Ohio's execution protocol
Two GOP members of the Ohio House, joined by Attorney General Dave Yost, said Tuesday they want to add nitrogen gas as a second method for Ohio to use in carrying out death sentences.
Introduced by Reps. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) and Phil Plummer (R-Dayton), the bill comes just days after the state of Alabama used a process called nitrogen hypoxia to execute 58-year-old Kenneth Smith—becoming the first state to do so.
“I am aware of the moral weight of this debate, but this is the law of the land,” Yost said during a Tuesday morning news conference.
There are 118 men and one woman on death row in Ohio, according to Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections data. Four executions are set for this year.
The state has not carried out an execution since July 2018, extending the entirety of Gov. Mike DeWine’s tenure. DeWine has blamed that standstill, in part, on pharmaceutical companies’ opposition to use of their products in the drug concoction that creates a lethal injection. He has delayed executions for 26 men—10 of them more than once.
But Tuesday, Yost called the nearly six-year standstill in executions an abdication of the state and said he wants this bill to kick off a bigger conversation.
“The arguments are going to be made for the justice of this current system,” Yost said. “The arguments are going to be made for the righteousness of this ultimate penalty, for the worst of the worst. And we're going to have a debate that's long overdue.”
Under the bill, Ohio would still allow for lethal injections, giving inmates the choice between the two. It would also restore previous privacy protections for companies that provide drugs to be used in executions, Stewart said.
Lou Tobin, the executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, said he believes that Ohio needs to weigh fairness of both those convicted of crimes and their victims.
“We're not going to avoid causing somebody who's being executed some level of distress,” Tobin said in an interview on Monday. “But the question is whether it amounts to a violation of the Eighth Amendment, and whether it amounts to torture and cruel and unusual punishment, and I don't think anything that we saw in Alabama indicated that.”
Nitrogen hypoxia is on the books as a proper method for execution in only three states: Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma. Each chamber of the Ohio Legislature would have to pass any change to how the state administers the death penalty, since presently, the only codified method is lethal injection.
A growing cohort of lawmakers on both sides have proposed abolishing the practice all together over the last decade. Bills introduced in both the Ohio House and Senate this legislative session would get rid of the death penalty. Neither have moved out of committee.
Democrats who are opponents of the death penalty have already come out vocally against this proposal.
“It's shocking to me,” Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) said in an interview. “Again, when this barbaric practice has been found to be inhuman for animals, I mean, period, exclamation point.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the drafted legislation had yet to be officially filed on the legislature’s website.