Ala. moves closer to allowing executions by nitrogen gas

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Alabama positioned itself Wednesday to become the second state in the country to allow its death row inmates to be executed with nitrogen gas.

Condemned inmates in Alabama already have the choice to be put to death by lethal injection or electric chair. The bill passed by the state Senate Judiciary Committee would add nitrogen gas to that list.

If signed into law, Alabama would join Oklahoma as the only two states in the U.S. to allow nitrogen executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington D.C. nonprofit. 

Alabama currently gives death row inmates the choice between the electric chair and lethal injection, CBS affiliate WAKA reports. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Trip Pittman, says using nitrogen would be more humane.   

The Montrose Republican proposed firing squad executions in an earlier version of the bill but he removed that provision and replaced it with nitrogen at the start of the hearing. 

Lawmakers argued against the death penalty and said they didn’t know enough about using the gas for capital punishment. One senator suggested that since the state allows inmates to choose execution methods, they should also be given the chance to pick life imprisonment. The bill passed 6-3 and will now move to the full Senate for more debate.

The legislation says that the state corrections department will have to provide the facilities, instruments and accommodations to carry out the nitrogen executions but it is unclear if it is equipped to do so. A spokesman with the department declined to comment.

Alabama has the fourth largest death row population in the country with 183 prisoners awaiting execution, records show.