M. Scott Carter reports on politics, legislation and other issues from the State Capitol.
State Rep. Mike Christian told a House committee Tuesday that he favors dropping lethal injection and instead using an inert gas, such as nitrogen or helium, to execute condemned prisoners.
To examine the method, Christian said he turned to the criminal justice department at East Central University in Ada. Thus, at the hearing, Michael Copeland, an ECU criminal justice professor and attorney, told lawmakers that he had reviewed research on the potential of nitrogen or helium to cause death by hypoxia and found that either gas was a humane and effective method of executing prisoners.
What Copeland and Christian did not tell the House Judiciary Committee was that Copeland was involved in Christian’s 2010 campaign for the state House.
During the 2013 bribery trial of state Rep. Randy Terrill, Copeland told an Oklahoma County jury that he came to Oklahoma City in 2010 to help his friend, Christian, run for political office. Copeland was testifying on behalf of the defense. Christian was also a witness at Terrill’s trial.
Before to coming to Oklahoma, Copeland said he served as assistant attorney general for the Republic of Palau, a small island in the western Pacific Ocean.
On Tuesday, Christian told lawmakers that the state must move beyond the era of lethal injections to carry out the death penalty.
“After visiting with my friends down at East Central and spending hours on research, discussing this problem, we think we’ve found a solution,” he said. “The solution we’ve come up with is nitrogen hypoxia.” He said he plans to introduce legislation allowing nitrogen or helium to be used in executions.
Lawmakers seemed interested in Christian’s proposal, but raised questions about Copeland’s study. State Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, asked Copeland why no physicians participated in the study.
“I can’t help but notice that none of the people on this list are medical professionals,” she said.
Copeland said he had contacted officials with the University of Oklahoma’s Health Sciences Center who initially agreed to participate in the study, then later declined.
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