Ohio Republicans are preparing nitrogen gas executions after Alabama killed Kenneth Eugene Smith

Ohio Republicans are preparing nitrogen gas executions after Alabama killed Kenneth Eugene Smith

State Republican lawmakers in Ohio are preparing a bill to allow executions by using nitrogen gas following Alabama’s execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith.

The state, which has 118 inmates on death row, has been struggling for years to get the drugs needed to perform lethal injections.

Nitrogen gas kills via asphyxiation, and the proposed Ohio bill would allow the use of the method if the drugs needed for lethal injection are unavailable, state Rep Josh Williams, who is co-sponsoring the legislation, said, according to Cleveland.com.

He added that the bill would also state that companies making the drugs used for lethal injections have legal immunity when such drugs are used for Ohio executions.

Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahoma have all authorized executions using nitrogen gas, with a number of other states considering taking the step, the Associated Press has reported.

Ohio last conducted an execution in 2018, with both US and European pharmaceutical companies having ended sales of the drugs needed for lethal injections for legal and moral reasons.

In Europe, only Belarus, often called the last dictatorship on the continent, still carries out executions. Capital punishment has been abolished in all of Europe apart from Belarus and Russia, which has a moratorium on the practice, having carried out its last execution in 1996.

In the US, the death penalty is federally legal as well as in 27 states in addition to the territory of American Samoa. It has been abolished in the remaining 23 states as well as in Washington, DC.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican who has been in the post since 2019, hasn’t allowed any executions to take place during his time in office, noting his concern that if drug companies become aware that the state has used their drugs to execute people, the firms may refuse to sell any of its drugs to Ohio regardless of use, which would prevent people to get drugs via state programmes, affecting Medicaid users, as well as state troopers, and prison inmates.

The governor has said that he would allow executions if state legislators put forward an alternative to lethal injection.

The office of the governor told Cleveland.com that they haven’t seen the proposed legislation yet.

“Now that we’ve had other states litigate this issue, I think it’s time that we move forward looking for alternative means,” Mr Williams told the outlet.

Ohio GOP Attorney General Dave Yost wrote on X on 26 January that “Alabama successfully used nitrogen to carry out a capital sentence. Perhaps nitrogen—widely available and easy to manufacture—can break the impasse of unavailability of drugs for lethal injection. Death row inmates are in greater danger of dying of old age than their sentence”.

Allison Cohen, the executive director of Ohioans to Stop Executions, said in a statement that “Ohioans have been moving away from the death penalty for years. Juries aren’t returning death sentences; and in fact, there have been no new death sentences in three years”.

“Ohioans understand that the system can’t be fixed, can’t be applied fairly and any attempt to do so is both a waste of money and fundamental misunderstanding of where Ohio’s values are aligned,” she added. “This is especially important in light of recent efforts to adopt new execution methods. The people of Ohio want to protect and sustain life, which means abolishing the death penalty.”

The Ohio ACLU noted in a press release on Monday that according to a poll conducted by The Tarrance Group in September last year, 56 per cent of Ohioans said that the death penalty should be removed and replaced with a life sentence for murder without the possibility of parole.

Jocelyn Rosnick, the Policy Director for the ACLU of Ohio, said: “Whether it’s due to racial disparity, fiscal or innocence concerns, people all across the state and across the aisle believe that it’s time for Ohio to cut ties with the death penalty. To date, 23 states plus Washington DC have repealed the death penalty, Ohio can and should be the 24th.”

Allison Reynolds-Berry, the Executive Director of Ignite Peace, argued that “there is no justice in the death penalty. People of conscience and people of faith know that each of us is more than the worst thing we have done. It is time we abolish a system that is unfairly applied, ineffective, and unwanted by the people of Ohio”.

During a press conference on Wednesday, state Rep Brian Stewart said, “There's a lot of states that actually do allow for a wide variety of means of carrying out capital sentences. We’ve spent a lot of time kind of looking at those different states and what we thought would be most palatable here in Ohio”.

”There has been a trend over recent years of states successfully providing for nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative ... we have a belief that this is a method ... that is humane and most people would find to be reasonable,” he added. “We're trying to arrive at a method that can gain the broadest support within the legislature and hopefully pass. Our belief is that this has a better shot than some of the things that other states have done.”

Mr Yost said on Tuesday, “I'm sure that if this is passed and signed into law, it will be challenged immediately. That's the nature of the world we live in. I also take note of the case in Alabama, which did go up to the Supreme Court for request for stay under the Eighth Amendment and was denied”.

“So I think that the legal challenges will come certainly, but I also am optimistic that they would be resolved in relatively short order, absent any kind of unforeseen evidence that doesn’t exist now,” he added.