TIME Oklahoma

Oklahoma Governor’s Daughter Will Move Trailer Home Off Mansion Grounds

Christina Fallin
Sue Ogrocki—AP From left, Alex Christensen, Adam Christensen, Price Fallin and Christina Fallin, the step-children and children of Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, lead the Pledge of Allegiance during Inaugural ceremonies for Fallin at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Jan. 12, 2015.

She had been living on the grounds of the governor's mansion since April

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s adult daughter will move her trailer off of the governor’s mansion ground, Fallin’s spokesman said Tuesday, in response to public concerns over her living on taxpayer-funded land.

Gov. Fallin revealed on Sunday that her daughter, Christina, has been staying in a trailer home linked to the mansion’s utilities since April, and is pleased to have her nearby as she seeks a permanent place to live, The Oklahoman reported.

One resident summarized the public’s concerns: “That is state property! Who is paying her bills? Oklahoma taxpayers?”

The governor addressed the furor on Tuesday, stating that her daughter’s trailer was not abusing state resources. “She would be using that electricity if she lived in the house, or if she got a drink of water out of the faucet, or if she flushed the toilet in the house,” Gov. Fallin told KFOR, an Oklahoma City television station.

Alex Weintz, Gov. Fallin’s spokesperson, added that neither Christina nor her mother had violated a state law. However, due to “an administrative rule” stating that trailers are not allowed on state property, Weintz explained, Gov. Fallin’s office has advised the trailer’s removal.

“We’re just like any family, any American family, any Oklahoma family,” Gov. Fallin said. “If I’m 80, if she comes to me and says, ‘Hey mom, I need a temporary place to stay, I’m going to let her stay with me.”

 

TIME weather

Oklahoma Hit By 4.5 Magnitude Earthquake

The state had two earthquakes in one day

Residents of Oklahoma experienced an earthquake on Monday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

At around a little past 1 p.m., the state experienced a 4.5 magnitude earthquake near Crescent, Oklahoma in Logan County, local news reports. A 4.0 earthquake was also reported slightly earlier at 12:49 p.m.

Residents in several states reportedly felt the shake, including Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Missouri and Arkansas, the Weather Channel reports.

So far there are no reports of major damage.

The Rocky Mountain region is infrequently hit by earthquakes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which will be monitoring any further seismic activity.

TIME Culture

Hundreds Gather for Unveiling of Satanic Statue in Detroit

Matt Anderson The bronze monument was unveiled by the Satanic Temple in Detroit on July 25, 2015

The "largest public satanic ceremony in history"

A little before midnight on Saturday, a crowd of around 700 gathered in an old industrial warehouse a few blocks from the Detroit River for what they’d been told was the “largest public satanic ceremony in history.” Most of them professed to be adherents of Satanism, that loosely organized squad of the occult that defines itself as a religious group. Others came simply because they were curious. After all, Satanists exist in the popular psyche as those who casually sacrifice goats and impregnate Mia Farrow with Lucifer’s child; if this ceremony was indeed unprecedentedly big, who knew what could be in store?

Read more: The Evolution of Modern Satanism in the United States

The reality of the event — and of the contemporary Satanic movement at large — was tamer, and, if the Facebook pictures speak the truth, harmlessly festive: a cross between an underground rave and a meticulously planned Halloween party. They were there to publicly unveil a colossal bronze statue of Baphomet, the goat-headed wraith who, after centuries of various appropriations, is now the totem of contemporary Satanism. The pentagram, that familiar logo of both orthodox Satanists and disaffected teens, originated as a rough outline of Baphomet’s head.

The statue itself is impressive: almost nine feet tall, and weighing in at around a ton. The horned idol sits on a throne adorned with a pentagram, but it is the idol’s wings, and not his chair, that curiously evoke the Iron Throne from a certain celebrated HBO fantasy series. He has the jarring horns of a virile ram but the biceps of a guy who lifts four or five times a week. His legs, which are crossed, end not in feet but in hooves. It might seem more menacing if not for the two bronze-statue children standing on either side of him — a girl on his left; a boy on his right; both are looking up at him earnestly.

“Baphomet contains binary elements symbolizing a reconciliation of opposites, emblematic of the willingness to embrace, and even celebrate differences,” Jex Blackmore, who organized the unveiling, told TIME late Sunday night. In a sense, the statue is a stress test of American plurality: at what point does religious freedom make the people uncomfortable?

Blackmore directs the Detroit chapter of the Satanic Temple, one of the few coherent organizations in a field that’s otherwise disorganized and dogmatically nebulous. The Satanic Temple has chapters in Florida and Finland, in Italy and Minneapolis. Its headquarters are in New York, but the Detroit office is its first and largest outpost. Blackmore — who, by the way, uses a pseudonym for safety reasons — grew up in the Detroit metropolitan area and returned to the city to work with the Satanic Temple after attending a lecture on Satanism at Harvard.

Asked whether her group is a religious organization (or rather an anti-religious organization) she explains that it’s less of a church and more of an affinity group, built around what she repeatedly refers to as “Satanic principles.” It’s not the dogma you might expect. To quote from the group’s website:

The Satanic Temple holds to the basic premise that undue suffering is bad, and that which reduces suffering is good. We do not believe in symbolic “evil.”

Most vitally, though, the group does not “promote a belief in a personal Satan.” By their logic, Satan is an abstraction, or, as Nancy Kaffer wrote for The Daily Beast last year, “a literary figure, not a deity — he stands for rationality, for skepticism, for speaking truth to power, even at great personal cost.”

Call it Libertarian Gothic, maybe — some darker permutation of Ayn Rand’s crusade for free will. One witnesses in the Satanic Temple militia a certain knee-jerk reaction to encroachments upon personal liberties, especially when those encroachments come with a crucifix in hand. The Baphomet statue is the Satanic Temple’s defiant retort du jour.

“We chose Baphomet because of its contemporary relation to the figure of Satan and find its symbolism to be appropriate if displayed alongside a monument representing another faith,” Blackmore said.

The monument she refers to is a six-foot marble slab engraved with the Ten Commandments, controversially situated on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol. In 2012, state representative Mike Ritze fronted $10,000 out of his own pocket to have the marker installed in the shadow of the capitol’s dome, prompting the ire of those who believed it flagrantly violated the separation of church and state. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the state of Oklahoma; the Satanic Temple fought fire with fire. If the Christians could chisel their credo onto public property, the argument went, why couldn’t they?

The state didn’t agree, and rejected the Satanic Temple’s petition to place Baphomet’s statute on legislative property. The point is now moot, though: a month ago, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the Ten Commandments monument violated the state constitution, a judgment that will probably stick in spite of an obstinate governor.

It seems there are battles left to fight, though. A Detroit pastor described the unveiling of the statue as “a welcome home party for evil.” A Catholic activism group in the city actively encouraged people to attend mass at a local cathedral to speak out against the statue — a pray-in, if you will. Meanwhile, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson recently signed a bill that will put the Ten Commandments on a similar monument on the grounds of the State Capitol in Little Rock. The Satanic Temple may be planning a road trip.

Read next: Preaching Pope Francis’s Politics May Be the Key to Becoming President

Listen to the most important stories of the day

TIME Crime

Two Teens Are in Custody After Five People Found Dead in Oklahoma

The case is a homicide investigation

(BROKEN ARROW, Okla.) — Police in eastern Oklahoma say five people have been found dead and two teenagers were taken into custody.

In a news release, Broken Arrow police Sgt. Thomas Cooper says officers were called to an address Wednesday night around 11:30 p.m. for an unknown problem.

When they arrived, Cooper says officers found the five deceased victims and a child who was still alive and was brought to the hospital in critical condition. Another child was found unharmed.

The news release says a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old, who are both related to the victims, were taken into custody.

The news release calls the case a homicide investigation. No other details were immediately available.

Broken Arrow is southeast of Tulsa.

TIME Crime

Man Who Killed Entire Family Says He ‘100%’ Welcomes Death Penalty

Alan Hruby.
Stephens County Sheriff's Office via AP Alan Hruby.

Hruby has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of his parents and sister

Alan Hruby, the 20-year-old who confessed to murdering his wealthy parents and sister last October, says in a letter that he welcomes capital punishment.

In the letter, sent from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary where he currently resides to The Oklahoman newspaper, Hruby wrote: “I 100% welcome the death penelty! What occured is so horrible it is deserved. It is so unspeakable.”

The letter, which is riddled with spelling errors, is a response to a message the newspaper sent Hruby last month. The paper asked him why he committed the gruesome crime and Hruby answered that he’s still trying to figure that out himself.

“This didn’t happen because of shopping,” he wrote, which contradicts what he initially told police. “My shopping wasn’t something I or my parents could not pay. They just thought my spending was out of control, and it was.”

Hruby’s family was found shot to death last year inside their Oklahoma home. Hruby confessed to the murders just a day later. When asked by authorities why he killed his entire family, Hruby said he “had been cut off financially … due to an abundance of spending in recent times.”

“He felt like if he murdered his mother, his father and his sister, he would be the only one, the only heir, to their estate,” Stephens County District Attorney Jason Hicks said at the time.

“I didn’t feel like myself that day,” Hruby continued in the letter. “This was not something that seemed like a conceiveable option.”

He added: “Why? I’m still trying to work it out. Trying to figure all of this out.”

Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty in the trial.

Hruby is currently serving three years in prison for credit card fraud after stealing his grandmother’s credit card and ringing up nearly $5,000 in charges while overseas.

He is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of his sister and parents.

This article originally appeared on People.com

TIME Religion

The Fight Over Oklahoma’s Ten Commandments Monument Rages On

Oklahoma Capitol Ten Commandments
Sue Ogrocki—AP The Ten Commandments monument is pictured at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, June 30, 2015. Oklahoma’'s Supreme Court says the monument must be removed because it indirectly benefits the Jewish and Christian faiths in violation of the state constitution.

State officials are calling for amendments to the state constitution

Oklahoma lawmakers are considering a measure that would amend the state’s constitution after a court ruled that a Ten Commandments monument at the State Capitol violated a ban concerning religious symbols on public property.

Republican leaders in Oklahoma’s House of Representatives said Wednesday they will work to pass a resolution that will let voters decide whether to repeal part of the state’s constitution that bans faith-based monuments from state grounds.

“The state Supreme Court misapplied an archaic and progressive section of our state Constitution and used that to apply a ruling that goes against the belief structure of the majority of Oklahomans,” Republican state Rep. Jon Echols said, according to The Oklahoman.

On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that a 6-foot Ten Commandments granite monument had to be removed, calling it “obviously religious in nature.”

State officials have said that the monument is historical and similar to one in Texas that was ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court.

“Quite simply, the Oklahoma Supreme Court got it wrong,” Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt saud in a statement. “The court completely ignored the profound historical impact of the Ten Commandments on the foundation of Western law.”

The controversial monument was installed in 2012 and funded by a Republican representative, who donated it to the state. The monument has been the subject of numerous debates over the separation of church and state in Oklahoma. Other religions, including the Satanic Temple, have argued that monuments symbolizing their faiths should be included as well. Last year, a man smashed his car into the monument, saying Satan made him do it.

TIME Courts

Supreme Court Finds Oklahoma Lethal Injection Drug Constitutional

Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014 file photo
Sue Ogrocki—AP The newly renovated death chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla., on Oct 9, 2014.

The sedative was used in a series of executions widely considered botched

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday that Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol is constitutional, finding that the use of the sedative midazolam in a three-drug cocktail does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The central issue in the case was whether the drug can be used in executions without violating the Constitution. Oklahoma was one of small number of states that incorporated midazolam into a new lethal injection formula after drugs for the established protocol became harder to acquire. The case was brought by Richard Glossip, a longtime Oklahoma death row inmate, and two other prisoners.

The court found that the inmates failed to prove that midazolam given in large doses leads to a substantial risk of severe pain and did not identify an alternative method of execution that significantly reduces that risk, a standard established in Baze v. Rees, a 2008 case in which justices upheld Kentucky’s three-drug combination.

In the majority’s ruling, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that “because some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution, we have held that Constitution does not require the avoidance of all risk of pain. … Holding that the Eighth Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether.”

Following the ruling, Oklahoma announced it would resume executions, which were on hold pending the court’s decision.

“This marks the eighth time a court has upheld as constitutional the lethal injection protocol used by Oklahoma,” said Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt in a statement. “The Court’s ruling preserves the ability of the Department of Corrections to proceed with carrying out the punishment of death.”

In the last few years, the landscape has dramatically shifted as states have experimented with new drug combinations in response to dwindling supplies of drugs for established lethal protocols.

Last year, the executioners of three separate inmates—Dennis McGuire in Ohio, Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma and Joseph Wood in Arizona—appeared to experience serious problems in rendering those inmates unconscious. All three were given midazolam as part of the cocktail of drugs, raising questions about its effectiveness. A number of anesthesiologists have criticized states’ use of the drug, saying it’s not an appropriate anesthetic to use during an execution because it doesn’t induce a full state of unconsciousness, potentially leading to a painful execution that could be considered cruel and unusual.

In Lockett’s execution, which was at the heart of the case, the inmate apparently woke up during the procedure after officials had trouble securing an IV in Lockett’s arms. They eventually placed an IV in Lockett’s groin, where it become dislodged, allowing midazolam to leak into the inmate’s surrounding tissues instead of the bloodstream. The execution lasted almost 45 minutes.

Afterwards, Oklahoma suspended future executions and changed its lethal injection policies. Meanwhile, death row inmate Charles Warner and 20 other inmates sued the state over the practice. Warner was executed in January. Three other inmates, including Glossip, eventually brought the case before the Supreme Court.

In December, a district court concluded that midazolam rendered inmates “insensate to pain,” but the plaintiffs argued there was no evidence to support that and appealed.

The case ultimately turned on a very narrow question: whether midazolam sufficiently induced unconsciousness in which an inmate would not feel pain from two other drugs being administered, especially potassium chloride, which one inmate described during an execution as feeling as if he were on fire.

The prisoners were unable to convince the nine justices that midazolam was an inadequate drug for lethal injections or had a “ceiling effect” that rendered the drug ineffective in reducing pain at a certain point.

“Petitioners have not proved that any risk posed by midazolam is substantial when compared to known and available alternative methods of execution,” Alito wrote. “Second, they have failed to establish that the District Court committed clear error when it found that the use of midazolam will not result in severe pain and suffering.”

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, four states—Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma—have used the drug during executions while five other states have proposed administering it.

Two justices—Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg—deviated from ruling on the efficacy of midazolam and instead wrote that capital punishment itself may be unconstitutional. In a lengthy 46-page dissent, the justices said that the death penalty’s arbitrary application and the significant delays between sentencing and execution may violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, and they called for the court to fully address its constitutionality.

TIME portfolio

This War Photographer Was Embedded in the World’s Largest Paintball Game

See images from paintball's front lines shot by a conflict photographer who just returned from Iraq

Earlier this month, I was in Iraq, just back from the frontline, when TIME’s Josh Raab asked me to photograph a paintball reenactment of the D-Day landing in Wyandotte, Okla.

As a documentary photographer, I’ve covered conflict for 10 years, spending as much time looking at how our society exists in wartime as I did in the wars themselves. This assignment seemed like the perfect intersection between those worlds.

The idea behind this assignment was that I photograph this fake war to compare and contrast it to the real thing.

A night battle in Colleville. Flares were popped to illuminate the darkness.
Peter van Agtmael—Magnum for TIME

Upon arrival at the D-Day Adventure Park in Wyandotte, the trappings of war were evident. Gear and gun-laden young men wearing camouflage walked and strutted while tanks and armored personnel carriers dotted the landscape. I introduced myself to Dewayne Convirs, the founder and godfather of the event and he introduced me to Beatle, a veteran and Harvard graduate living in New Orleans and working as a business consultant. From the adoring stares and Beatle’s own matter of fact explanations, it became clear that he was a legendary figure. Beatle, who’s real name is Juan Parke, became our guide, introducing us to the many units modeled after their real life counterparts.

Shortly after arriving there was a night battle in the center of a recreated town made of concrete and bulk styrofoam. Flares were popped to illuminate the darkness, and the Allies and Germans battled in the flickering light. Thousands of paintballs streamed through the air and it was impossible not to get shot. Getting hit by a paintball feels like a hard pinch. It is more startling than painful. After getting used to the feeling I realized I wanted to photograph as if I were immune. I didn’t enjoy getting pummeled by paintballs, but there was something liberating about it.

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Josh Raab for TIME

I don’t generally care for photographs of combat. I’ve been in quite a few firefights in Iraq and Afghanistan but rarely took pictures that were anything more than a two-dimensional representation of war. Men shooting guns does not carry much emotional value for me. After the first few times in real combat, I tended to find a nice piece of cover where I could photograph the action from relative safety.

Afterwards, Josh asked me if the night battle had felt like combat. For me it was like comparing a drawing of an orange to the fruit itself. When you take away the constant feeling of mortality and the always looming potential for death or injury the essence of it disappears.

When I woke up the next morning I felt a little wary. Was this a celebration of militarism? A nationalistic throwback to a more triumphant, noble-seeming time when the enemy was clear? Perhaps in part, but as we started to spend time with the participants, a different picture emerged.

We pitched our tents with the group representing the 1st Infantry Division, who had landed on Omaha Beach and suffered one of the highest casualty rates. There was a great warmth and sense of community. Food and drink were shared and there was a nightly gathering where individuals were celebrated for their helpfulness and generosity. They received a cream pie in the face, to cheers. Afterwards, one man mentioned that he enjoyed the battles, but the real core of the experience was the camaraderie of the camp site. Another mentioned he had sold his car to afford to come. A third had sold his plasma.

On the last day, after an entire day fighting across a half dozen intricate battlefields, a group gathered at a makeshift bar in one of the campgrounds. Talk of strategy and battlefield successes was largely over. A gruff voiced commander sang “Happy Birthday” in a falsetto. A large man acted out an intricate story about getting beaten up by a little person martial arts expert. I drank whiskey in the dark with a former soldier turned military contractor in Iraq. “A lot of us are angry,” he said. “But we’re not angry with each other.”

Josh Raab for TIME

Peter van Agtmael is a conflict photographer and member of Magnum. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. His book Disco Nights Sept 11 is available now.

 

 

Christian Hansen

Josh Raab is a regular contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

TIME Crime

Oklahoma Sheriff Apologizes to Family of Man Shot By Reserve Deputy

Eric Harris (R) poses with his brother Andre in this undated photo.
Andre Harris/Smolen, Smolen & Roytman, PLLC—AP Eric Harris (R) poses with his brother Andre in this undated photo.

"We are sorry Eric was taken from you"

An Oklahoma sheriff offered an apology on Monday to the family of Eric Harris, the unarmed man who was shot and killed by a reserve deputy who says he confused his gun for a Taser.

“We are sorry Eric was taken from you,” said Sheriff Stanley Glanz of Tulsa County. “My sympathy goes out to that family.”

The sheriff said his department was still trying to find all the training records for the reserve deputy, Robert Bates, a 73-year-old former insurance executive who volunteered with the department.

But the sheriff told reporters that it was proper for Bates to have…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Crime

The Dawn of a New Form of Capital Punishment

Why Oklahoma became the first state to approve nitrogen gas as a lethal injection alternative

In the weeks following the execution of Clayton Lockett, the Oklahoma death row inmate whose botched lethal injection triggered a statewide moratorium on executions, lawmakers there began rethinking their approach to capital punishment. Among the people they called on to help was Michael Copeland.

Copeland is a criminal justice professor at East Central University, a public school with about 6,000 students in Ada, Okla. From 2010 to 2013, he was the director of the anti-fraud unit at the Oklahoma Insurance Department. Before that, he was an assistant attorney general for the Republic of Palau, a small island nation in the Pacific Ocean. Copeland is not a doctor. He has no medical training. But what he does have is a close relationship with Oklahoma legislators, some of whom he’s known for years. And they often ask Copeland to conduct research and gather data that could help shape bills. He’s worked with legislators on reducing the number of uninsured motorists, for example, and helped draft guidelines for the transportation of the mentally ill who are a danger to themselves and others.

About a year ago, Oklahoma Rep. Mike Christian, who attended high school with Copeland, asked his old friend for ideas on how to replace the increasingly problematic method of lethal injection. After studying the issue, Copeland recommended death by nitrogen, a method that has never been used for a state-sanctioned killing in the U.S.

Nevertheless, Oklahoma has embraced the idea. On Friday, Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, signed a bill into law, based on Copeland’s research, that would make nitrogen asphyxiation the state’s execution method if lethal injection is ruled unconstitutional or the necessary drugs are no longer available. The law marks a new frontier in the increasingly charged debate over the future of capital punishment in America. And it ensured that the state where lethal injection originated three decades ago has resumed its place as the nation’s execution laboratory.

The Problems With Lethal Injection

The idea of nitrogen asphyxiation or “nitrogen hypoxia” has been been batted around as a method of capital punishment for years. A 1995 National Review article titled “Killing With Kindness: Capital Punishment by Nitrogen Asphyxiation,” for example, recommended that states use nitrogen gas after a federal district court deemed California’s gas chamber unconstitutional. But the method largely remained on the fringes of the capital punishment debate.

MORE: Texas Running Out of Execution Drug

Twenty years later, the landscape has changed dramatically. Today, a number of states are facing severe lethal injection drug shortages after pharmaceutical companies stopped providing drugs for the procedure. Texas, for example, is down to enough pentobarbital for just a handful of executions. Legislators in Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia have introduced legislation to bring back the electric chair because of problems obtaining drugs, while Utah has resurrected the firing squad. And looming over it all is a Supreme Court case this summer involving Oklahoma’s three-drug protocol. The court’s decision could potentially force states to abandon lethal injection altogether.

“The problem we’re having in Oklahoma now and several other states is that while lethal injections used to be an effective and humane way to execute someone, it’s really not anymore,” Copeland says. “The facts on the ground have changed. Now it’s like an experiment every time. Here’s some drugs and maybe we’ll have a paramedic administer it and let’s see what happens. Maybe this will kill ‘em. It’s kind of haphazard, and I think it’s only going to get worse.”

No one could’ve foreseen lethal injection’s problems in 1977, when an Oklahoma legislator asked Dr. Jay Chapman, the state medical examiner, to develop what was intended to be a more humane execution alternative to firing squads. Chapman developed a three-drug cocktail that soon became the default method of executions nationwide. But by 2010, European drug makers acceded to pressure from death penalty opponents and stopped selling drugs for use in executions. As supplies dwindled, states scrambled to figure out how to keep killing without the three drugs they had long relied on: sodium thiopental, a sedative; pancuronium bromide, a paralytic agent; and potassium chloride, a compound that stops the heart.

Some states switched to using just one drug, often pentobarbital, a barbiturate. Others began using midazolam, a sedative that has been scrutinized by some anesthesiologists for not being strong enough to properly induce unconsciousness and is at the heart of the upcoming Supreme Court case. Many states have turned to compounding pharmacies, which are unregulated by the federal government, for their supply while passing secrecy laws to keep those drug makers shielded from public view.

Last year, there were three executions widely considered botched, all of which included the sedative midazolam. Dennis McGuire, an Ohio inmate convicted of rape and murder, died after reportedly snoring and snorting during his lethal injection. Joseph Wood, an Arizona inmate, reportedly gasped on the gurney in an execution that took nearly two hours. And in Oklahoma, Lockett died in a lethal injection that went so awry that documents obtained by the Tulsa World show that Lockett essentially helped his executioners find a vein after they failed multiple times to insert IVs into his arms and legs. It was that chaotic scene that sent Oklahoma legislators on the search for an alternative.

The Search For A Better Way to Kill

Copeland says there were four main criteria he tried to meet in recommending a new execution method: 1) it had to be humane; 2) it couldn’t have supply problems; 3) it had to be simple to administer; 4) it could be done without medical professionals. Nitrogen, Copeland says, satisfies all four.

MORE: The Harsh Reality of Execution by Firing Squad

The method would likely consist of a gas mask that covers the head and neck, which would be filled with pure nitrogen from a nearby canister. That nitrogen would displace the oxygen, leading to death by oxygen deprivation, says Solomon Snyder, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins Medical School who is not involved in the Oklahoma bill.

The method’s supporters cite accidental deaths that were reportedly peaceful — such as divers who took in too much nitrogen and pilots whose oxygen levels fell too low — as evidence of the chemical’s efficacy. Nitrogen hypoxia has also been recommended by some advocates of euthanasia in places without so-called right to die laws. The gas is also relatively cheap and abundant, decreasing concerns about supply problems.

“Execution via nitrogen hypoxia is a painless form of capital punishment that is simple to administer, doesn’t depend upon the aid of the medical community, and is not subject to the supply constraints we are faced with when using the current three-drug cocktail protocol,” State Rep. Mike Christian, who wrote the House bill authorizing nitrogen gas, said in an e-mail.

Copeland says that physicians, who declined to testify in front of state legislators, confirmed for a 14-page study he co-authored that a lack of oxygen would lead someone to pass out within about 15 seconds, halt brain waves within 30 to 45 seconds and stop the heart within two to three minutes. In September, Copeland presented his findings to the Oklahoma House Judiciary Committee. His presentation included YouTube videos of people passing out from too much helium, another inert gas. Pilots testified about experiencing hypoxia, describing the gradual decrease of oxygen as undetectable, and Copeland claims the effects with nitrogen would be similar.

“We have a lot of parallels,” Copeland says. “We’ve just never used [nitrogen] in this context.”

Changing the context could prove problematic. Administrating the gas within a prison is much different than the instances in which pilots and divers have slowly and accidentally experienced a lack of oxygen. Dr. Michael Weiden, a pulmonary expert at NYU School of Medicine, says that while nitrogen could be administered without medical professionals, using it for capital punishment could create an ironic consequence: the need for sedation.

“What’s going to prevent someone from holding their breath and prolonging their execution?” says Weiden, who supports the death penalty for certain crimes. “People are going to hold their breath as the oxygen leaks out of their bodies. They’ll struggle, and somebody who thinks that an individual who’s asphyxiating will not freak out without sedation is foolish.”

The American Medical Association’s ethical guidelines require that “physicians can only certify death, provided that the condemned has been declared dead by another person,” according to spokesman R.J. Mills. The association does not have a position on the Oklahoma bill.

Despite the unanswered questions, more states appear to be considering nitrogen as they plan for a future without lethal injection. Copeland says he has been in touch with corrections officials in several states, some of which he says are “ahead of us in terms of protocol.” Copeland would not disclose the states.

Oklahoma Sen. Anthony Sykes, who sponsored the nitrogen bill in the state Senate, says Louisiana and Texas have both shown interest in the method. Louisiana Department of Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc told a legislative committee last year that “nitrogen is the next big thing” and described it as a “painless way to go.” In February, the state’s corrections department issued a report recommending nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative method of execution.

A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice would not confirm that the state was considering alternative execution methods.

To some lethal injection experts the interest in nitrogen has familiar echoes of the discussion nearly 40 years ago, when states were contemplating methods other than firing squads and gas chambers.

“It looks fool-proof,” says Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University who opposes the death penalty over what she says is its inequitable application in the U.S. “It’s easy to look at these incidents in a non-prison setting and say they die humanely. But implementing that into a prison setting, the conditions aren’t the same. The people doing this aren’t the same.”

Corrections officials have varied levels of training and experience with lethal injection, which can lead to the sorts of errors that contributed to Lockett’s prolonged execution. Denno cautions that the same problems could happen with the administration of nitrogen.

Richard Dieter, the senior program director of the Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death penalty group, says Oklahoma would essentially be conducting another experiment if it went adopted nitrogen hypoxia.

MORE: Georgia Postpones 2 Execution Over ‘Cloudy’ Drugs

“This method has never been used before in an execution,” Dieter says. “I think it’s premature to accept a legislator’s promise that all will go well. It’s one thing to say that people have died of oxygen deprivation and another to strap an unwilling subject in a chamber and watch the reactions and resistance for the first time.”

Now that Fallin has signed the bill into law, Oklahoma has sidestepped something a number of other states have been forced into: a return to methods that were all but abandoned decades ago.

“You got to remember that if this doesn’t pass, the alternative is not to go back to lethal injection,” Copeland said in February. “If for some reason lethal injection either becomes unavailable or it’s unconstitutional, we go to the electric chair. Maybe you don’t believe in the death penalty, but certainly you believe that if we’re going to have a death penalty, it should be done in a humane way. And I think [nitrogen] is better than the electric chair by a wide margin.”

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