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State won’t describe nitrogen execution plans for security

KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama prison system, citing security reasons, declined to describe the “system” it has built for nitrogen hypoxia executions and gave no timeframe for its use in carrying out death sentences.

An Alabama Department of Corrections spokeswoman on Monday said she could not give an estimate for when the state would develop a protocol for the new execution method. The department also declined describe even in general terms what it has built.

“At this time, the ADOC has not produced a nitrogen hypoxia execution protocol. It would be inappropriate to speculate as to when the aforementioned protocol will be produced. Additionally, due to security concerns, the ADOC cannot provide details on the completion of the initial physical build of the nitrogen hypoxia system,” Kristi Simpson, an interim spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Corrections, wrote in an email.

The statement was a response to questions from The Associated Press, which asked for a broad description of the “physical build” of the system the state said it has completed — including whether it is a room or an apparatus in the existing death chamber — and an estimated timeframe for completing the protocol.

Alabama told a federal judge last week that it has finished construction of a “system” to put condemned inmates to death using nitrogen gas, an execution method authorized by state law but never put into use.

“The ADOC has completed the initial physical build on the nitrogen hypoxia system. A safety expert has made a site visit to evaluate the system. As a result of the visit, the ADOC is considering additional health and safety measures,” a lawyer for the state attorney general’s office wrote in the court filing.

Alabama in 2018 became the third state — along with Oklahoma and Mississippi — to authorize the untested use of nitrogen gas to execute prisoners.

Death would be caused by forcing the inmate to breathe only nitrogen, thereby depriving him or her of oxygen.

Lawmakers theorized that death by nitrogen hypoxia could be a simpler and more humane execution method. But critics have likened the untested method to human experimentation since it has never been used.

No state has used nitrogen hypoxia to carry out an execution, and no state has developed a protocol for its use, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The information of the construction was disclosed in a court filing involving a lawsuit over the presence of spiritual advisers in the death chamber.

Alabama currently carries out executions by lethal injection unless an inmate requests the electric chair. As lethal injection drugs became difficult to obtain, states began looking at alternative ideas for carrying out death sentences including firing squads and gas.

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