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Government & Politics

Ohio Considers Nitrogen For Executions

photo of John Murphy

There have been no executions in Ohio for almost three years.The state hasn’t been able to get the lethal injection drugs needed to carry out those death sentences. But as Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, there’s a suggestion that a widely used and available gas could be a substitute.


The leader of the Ohio Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, John Murphy, says his organization favors the death penalty and thinks it ought to be retained as a form of punishment in Ohio. But Murphy also has a personal opinion on the issue.

The state has been unable to get execution drugs, and the back-up method that was used in the execution of Dennis McGuire in 2014 proved so controversial the prisons' department has decided not to use it again. Murphy says if the state is going to retain the death penalty, it needs to come up with an efficient and readily available method to carry out the executions. And he’s suggesting using nitrogen gas.

“It’s a gas that essentially puts you to sleep which seems to me very humane and inexpensive from what I understand and easy to administer. If we are going keep the death penalty, I think we ought to get a better method of execution and this seems like a promising alternative, So I think we ought to take a serious look at it.”

Lethal amounts of the nitrogen gas could be administered through a mask. Other states that are also having trouble getting execution drugs are also looking at that option. But some think the method of execution isn’t the big question that should be asked.

Reforming the system
“They want to resume executions as soon as they can without taking steps to reform the system, says Abe Bonowitz with Ohioans to Stop Executions. He notes that public support for the death penalty is dwindling and says the state should enact all 58 recommendations by a 2014 Ohio Supreme Court task force that addresses fairness and disparities among counties that prosecute death penalty cases.

He says justice in Ohio should not hinge on the whims of a single elected official.

“Job one should have been to implement these reforms, not monkey around with the way executions are carried out. You know, we think the death penalty is a relic of the past, and we don’t need executions to hold killers accountable and be safe from them.

"We just think there is a better way and we think any Ohioan who is actually aware of what’s happening and where the system fails us would agree.”


Changing the state’s execution method would require approval from lawmakers, and the state Legislature won’t be back in full force until after the November election.


A written statement from prisons department spokeswoman JoEllen Smith says the agency continues to seek all legal means to obtain the drugs necessary to carry out court ordered executions and adds the process has included multiple options.