Home U.S. News States Where the Death Penalty Has Stalled Look to Alabama

States Where the Death Penalty Has Stalled Look to Alabama

States Where the Death Penalty Has Stalled Look to Alabama

Days after Alabama became the first state to put an inmate to death using nitrogen gas, officials elsewhere have started considering the new method of execution.

In Ohio, where no one has been put to death for five years, the state’s attorney general and several Republican lawmakers touted a new bill on Tuesday that would permit execution by nitrogen hypoxia, in addition to lethal injection.

Oklahoma and Mississippi have adopted the new method, and Nebraska is considering it. Louisiana’s governor has also said the state should look at new ways to carry out executions, which haven’t taken place there since 2010.

The effort comes at a time when America is increasingly divided over the death penalty. Public opinion polls show a majority still supports capital punishment, but the margin has dwindled from 80 percent in favor in 1994 to the mid-50s in recent years, according to Gallup. Many states have been unable to carry out death sentences because of a string of bungled executions and the increased difficulty of obtaining lethal drugs.

That stalemate is especially evident in Ohio, where the Republican governor, Mike DeWine, said in a 2020 interview that lethal injection was “impossible from a practical point of view.” The governor has repeatedly questioned — as recently as last week — whether the death penalty, which he supported when the state enacted it in 1981, serves as an effective deterrent, given the long delays in carrying it out.

Efforts to abolish the state’s death penalty have failed in recent years, although a coalition released a poll this week showing that a narrow majority of Ohio residents support replacing it with life in prison without parole.

Mr. DeWine has urged lawmakers to seek an alternative to lethal injection, given a federal judge’s ruling that Ohio’s execution method could cause “severe pain and needless suffering.” His office declined to comment Tuesday, however, on whether the governor would support suffocation by nitrogen gas.

The Ohio bill was introduced five days after Alabama used nitrogen in the execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, one of three men convicted in the 1988 murder of Elizabeth Sennett. Alabama’s attorney general, Steve Marshall, called it a “textbook” execution and suggested it could provide an example for other states. “Alabama has done it, and now so can you,” he said.

But critics continued to question its application, noting that descriptions from several witnesses were at odds with the state’s contention before the execution that the use of nitrogen gas would ensure “unconsciousness in seconds.”

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