Alabama prepares to use a new, untried execution method called nitrogen hypoxia to carry out a death sentence later this month. Alan Eugene Miller, a delivery truck driver convicted in a triple killing in 1999, was previously set for Sept. 22 execution by lethal injection. James Houts, a deputy state attorney general, told U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker Jr. that it is “very likely” the method could be available for the execution of Miller if the judge blocks the use of lethal injection. Nitrogen hypoxia, which is supposed to cause death by replacing oxygen with nitrogen, has been authorized by Alabama and two other states for executions but never used. Nitrogen is safe to breathe – it makes up 78% of what we inhale – but only when mixed with suitable amounts of oxygen. 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.
Miller’s lawyer, Mara Klebaner, said the inmate’s legal team needed more information about the nitrogen process and wouldn’t agree blindly to its use. Miller’s lawyers don’t want him to be the test case for an untried execution method. In fact, a report from the United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board said that breathing “an oxygen-deficient atmosphere” can knock a person unconscious after just one or two breaths. Before passing out, a person may feel lightheaded, dizzy or maybe even a bit euphoric. On the other part, lethal injection involves drugs that, if given incorrectly, can result in suffering. The heart-stopping drug are supposed to be given after a powerful sedative has rendered the person unconscious, but if the sedative does not work properly, the other two drugs can cause significant pain.