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Senate Judiciary Committee approves bill allowing death penalty by nitrogen asphyxiation

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Wednesday, April 5, 2017, the Senate Judiciary Committee gave a favorable report to Senate Bill 12 that would add nitrogen asphyxiation to the death penalty manner choices for condemned felons. SB12 is sponsored by Senator Trip Pittman (R-Montrose).

Senator Pittman told the Committee that he wanted to provide condemned individuals more choices in how they meet their end.

Pittman said that currently the only two choices are death by lethal injection or death in the electric chair. Sen. Pittman said that one prisoner asked him to allow him to die in front of a firing squad. Sen. Pittman said that he brought that bill. “I had a lot of people volunteer to be a member of that squad.” But Pittman said that there were issues that came up that resulted in having to remove the firing squad as an option.

Sen. Pittman said that Nitrogen is over 70 percent of the air we breathe now and that there are reasons why nitrogen asphyxiation would be a better death than carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide asphyxiation.

Sen. Pittman emphasized that he just wants to give the condemned prisoners more choices.

Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) said that his first concern is was it constitutional and it is.

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Senator Vivian Figures (D-Mobile) asked, “Why do you guys believe in choice for some things but not in all things?”

Sen. Ward answered, “We can have that conversation in the Health Committee.”

Senator Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City) said that he had reservations because he did not know much about nitrogen asphyxiation.

Sen. Pittman said Nitrogen is the most humane option.

Senator Linda Coleman Madison (D-Birmingham) asked, “Where are we on the ability to obtain the drugs for lethal injection?”

Sen. Ward said that the state have been having trouble acquiring some drugs because they are made only in Europe. Lethal injection is done by mixing three different drugs. The European Union has rules against exporting drugs for lethal injection. That problem has since been resolved as the State has acquired US sources for the necessary drugs and now has sufficient quantities to continue operating.

Pittman said that Alabama would be just the second state to offer this option. Oklahoma is the other.

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Sen. Figures said that she wanted to offer an amendment to give the prisoner a life without parole option.

Sen. Ward said, “You can offer that, but it is not going to pass.”

The Committee voted to give the bill a favorable report on a 6 to 3 vote. It now moves on to consideration by the full Senate.

The words, “gas chamber” never came up in the discussion.


Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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