Oklahoma’s Execution Battle: Governor Rejects Switch to Nitrogen Executions, Stays Committed to Lethal Injection

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt stated Tuesday that he is confident in the state’s current lethal injection techniques and has no intentions to switch to nitrogen gas, despite the fact that several states are considering following Alabama’s lead and employing nitrogen gas to execute death row convicts.

Stitt stated that he visited the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester in 2020 after the state revised its lethal injection techniques in response to a string of problematic executions and that he is satisfied with how fatal injections are carried out.

“I understand exactly how it works. In an interview , Stitt stated, “I know exactly what they are doing.” “I don’t want to change a process that’s working.”

Steven Harpe, the superintendent of Oklahoma’s prison system, and his chief of staff, Justin Farris, had previously visited Alabama to investigate its nitrogen gas protocols and announced last week that they were considering that method as an alternative.

Alabama became the first state to use nitrogen gas to kill a person last week, and Ohio’s attorney general backed a legislative move to use nitrogen gas in the state on Tuesday. Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahoma have all approved nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method, albeit Oklahoma’s statute only authorizes it if lethal injection is no longer an option.

On Tuesday, Harpe and Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond filed a combined application with the Court of Criminal Appeals to schedule six scheduled executions three months apart, rather than the existing 60 days.

Harpe adds in the motion that the present execution rate of every two months “is too onerous and not sustainable.”

“The day of an execution affects not only those directly involved in the execution, but the entirety of Oklahoma State Penitentiary, which goes into a near complete lockdown until the execution is completed,” Harpe said in a statement attached to the motion.

Harpe explained that the extra time between executions “protects our team’s mental health and allows time for them to process and recover between the scheduled executions.”

Oklahoma has executed 11 people since beginning lethal injections in October 2021, with two more slated for later in the year. Following that, another six detainees have exhausted all of their appeals and are awaiting execution dates.

The lawsuit filed on Tuesday seeks that the six offenders — Richard Norman Rojem, Emmanuel Littlejohn, Kevin Ray Underwood, Wendell Arden Grissom, Tremane Wood, and Kendrick Antonio Simpson — be executed 90 days apart beginning in September.


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