Alabama is preparing to carry out a court-ordered death sentence using a new method that is approved but has never been used or tested, nitrogen hypoxia.
Alan Eugene Miller has an execution date of Sep. 22. He was convicted of killing three men in a workplace shooting in 1999. He said he opted for nitrogen hypoxia instead of lethal injection due to a fear of needles, but corrections officers lost his paperwork.
While the Alabama attorney general’s office found no evidence of that, Miller could receive death by nitrogen hypoxia if a judge blocks the use of lethal injection.
Hypoxia is when there is not a sufficient amount of oxygen in the tissues for the body to perform its regular functions. It is different from hypoxemia, which occurs when there is low oxygen in the blood.
Nitrogen hypoxia is a form of inert gas asphyxiation. Nitrogen is safe to breathe – it makes up 78% of what we inhale – but only when mixed with suitable amounts of oxygen.
According to NPR, “Inert gas asphyxiation uses gasses that are not typically poisonous, such as nitrogen, methane or helium, as a diluting agent for atmospheric gasses. This then reduces oxygen concentration to fatally low amounts, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. Once oxygen levels fall below 16%, breathing becomes difficult. At 4% to 6%, a person can enter a coma in as little as 40 seconds.”
James Houts, a deputy state attorney general, told US District Judge R Austin Huffaker Jr. that it is “very likely” that Alan Eugene Miller will be executed using this method.
Houts said that the final decision on whether or not the method will be used will be made by Corrections Commissioner John Hamm.