- Associated Press - Thursday, February 12, 2015

BOLEY, Okla. (AP) - The head of Oklahoma’s prison system said Thursday that while little is known about a proposed new execution method involving nitrogen gas, he stands ready to carry out executions however the state determines they should be done.

Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton was asked about the idea at a Board of Corrections meeting after two separate legislative panels this week approved legislation that would make “nitrogen hypoxia” the state’s second execution option after lethal injection.

“If the Legislature votes in a new method, and that method is found to be constitutionally sound, then it will be my responsibility to carry out that execution, and that’s really all I can tell you,” Patton said after the meeting at the J.H. Lilley Correctional Center.

“I don’t know any more about this method than anybody else in the nation.”

Patton attended a legislative hearing last summer in which an assistant professor from East Central University in Ada presented research he’d conducted into hypoxia, a condition in which the body is deprived of oxygen. Proponents say the method would be painless and easy to administer, but it has never before been used in the United States.

The House and Senate authors of the legislation say the bills were prompted by a botched execution last spring and a resulting legal challenge that led the U.S. Supreme Court to halt further lethal injections in Oklahoma while it reviews whether the state’s new three-drug method is constitutional.

Patton and board members were briefed behind closed doors about the case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court and a separate legal challenge by media organizations seeking more access to Oklahoma executions.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs in that case - The Oklahoma Observer and the Guardian US news organizations and two individual journalists - said Thursday they did not plan to appeal a federal judge’s decision dismissing their lawsuit.

“After visiting with our clients and taking a studied look at the legal lay of the land, we decided that it was not the right time to take this cutting-edge legal issue up on appeal,” said Ryan Kiesel, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma.

Patton also said Thursday he is optimistic about legislative efforts to slow the growth of Oklahoma’s inmate population. Gov. Mary Fallin and other Republican leaders have said criminal justice reform is a top priority, and Patton said a working group that includes him, district attorneys and other stakeholders will meet Monday to begin ironing out details of a plan.

“The governor’s committed, and as far as I’m concerned, when the chief executive of this state wants to get something done, it’s my job to make sure it gets done,” Patton said.

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy


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