Why Oklahoma plans to execute people with nitrogen

Death Penalty


Oklahoma has always been the nation’s laboratory for capital punishment.

It was a state legislator named Bill Wiseman who in 1977 came up with the idea of lethal injection by asking the state medical examiner for a more humane, scientific way to put human beings to death.

It looks like Oklahoma might be experimenting again. On Wednesday, the state’s Attorney General and director of corrections announced that a severe nationwide shortage of the drugs needed for lethal injection meant they would be switching to nitrogen inhalation for future executions.

Executing prisoners by nitrogen “hypoxia,” which deprives the body of oxygen, has never been tried by any state or nation in the history of the world. But the gas is widely available for purchase from manufacturers (it has a host of uses from welding to inflating tires to carbonating beer), which can’t be said of the lethal injection drugs midazolam and pentobarbital. For humanitarian reasons, medical companies have largely stopped providing those chemicals to state governments.

“I was calling all around the world, to the back streets of the Indian subcontinent, to procure drugs,” Joe M. Allbaugh, Oklahoma’s corrections director, said in his announcement of the switch to nitrogen.

Allbaugh and state Attorney General Mike Hunter said Oklahoma could begin the nitrogen executions by the end of this year. They said there would first be a period of 90 to 120 days for developing the new method and allowing lawyers for death row prisoners to make their legal challenges in court.

Below, a recap of everything Oklahoma knows about its latest proposed execution method (hint: very little).


In 2014, a Republican state representative and former highway trooper named Mike Christian watched a BBC documentary called “How to Kill a Human Being,” which included a segment on nitrogen inhalation. Intrigued, he called up a high school friend, Michael Copeland, who had previously served as attorney general of the small island nation of Palau.

Copeland asked medical professionals at the University of Oklahoma to help study the idea, but they declined. Instead, he and two other non-scientists compiled a nitrogen report for the state Legislature — which they presented after preparing for just three hours one evening, according to Christine Pappas, a local professor and one of those involved.

Their sources included articles from 1963 and 1977, as well as information on techniques of inert gas asphyxiation used by assisted-suicide activists.


After reading the report, Oklahoma lawmakers held a series of hearings on nitrogen gas, during which they watched YouTube videos of teenagers inhaling helium, laughing and passing out.

They also considered a financial analysis that said “the costs would be minimal and include the one-time purchase of a gas mask (similar to what one experiences at the dentist), and the price for a canister of nitrogen.”

A two-page bill introducing the new method overwhelmingly passed both houses of the Legislature in spring 2015, with the few holdouts expressing concern that prisoners might experience brief euphoria before they lost consciousness and died.


Backers of the nitrogen method have argued that because the gas is not itself poisonous (it just crowds out oxygen), it will provide a more humane death than paralytic drugs.

The idea, ostensibly, would be to cover the condemned inmate’s face with a gas mask and fill it with nitrogen. He would then gradually and painlessly lose consciousness, much like a deep-sea diver or a mountain climber at high altitude.

Christian, the bill’s sponsor, explained it this way to a German newspaper: “You just sit there and a few minutes later, you’re dead.”


“It’s nonsense, empirically,” said Joel B. Zivot, an anesthesiologist at Emory University, in a 2015 interview with The Marshall Project.

No medical research exists, for example, as to whether the nitrogen should be released gradually or all at once to achieve the intended effect. Nothing is known about what might happen if the prisoner resists by thrashing or breaking the seal of his mask — or by refusing to breathe, which could lead to a painful accumulation of carbon dioxide in the lungs.

In his statement to the German newspaper Der Spiegel, Christian may have revealed his and Oklahoma’s actual reason for adopting such an untested execution protocol. One way or another, he said, “We will put these beasts to death.”

This article was originally published by The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system. Sign up for their newsletter, or follow The Marshall Project on Facebook or Twitter.

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Tennessee has imposed nearly $100K in fines for unlicensed hair braiding since 2009

Legislation & Lobbying


Hair braiders without a “natural hair stylist” license in Tennessee can be punished with a civil penalty of $1,000 for each instance of unlicensed work.

The fines add up. According to a review by the Institute for Justice, the state imposed $100,000 in fines against dozens of braiders and more than 30 natural hair shops since 2009. A communications associate for the group highlighted the findings in an article for Forbes.

Among those fined is Fatou Diouf, who was required to pay $16,000 for employing workers without the required stylist’s license, even though her shop is licensed. A payment plan for her most recent violations requires Diouf to pay $830 a month toward the fine.

The Institute for Justice has litigated 14 cases on behalf of natural hair braiders, including a Utah case challenging a licensing requirement for 2,000 hours of coursework. U.S. District Judge David Sam of Salt Lake City ruled in 2012 that the requirement for a cosmetology license was unconstitutional because it was irrelevant to the profession, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported at the time.

The institute has won two other cases in federal court, according to its website.

Today, 23 states do not require licensing for hair braiders; nearly half of them reformed licensing requirements in the last four years. Tennessee could join the group. A pending bill would repeal the licensing requirement for natural hair stylists. Diouf testified in favor of the legislation.

Bills to repeal specialty braiding licenses are also pending in Louisiana, Minnesota, Ohio, and Oklahoma. Bills that would exempt natural hair care from cosmetology licensure are pending in New Jersey, Missouri, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

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Civil rights lawyer and former MALDEF president Joaquin Avila dies at 69


Joaquin Avila is seen in this 2009 photo./Courtesy Seattle University School of Law

Civil rights lawyer Joaquin Avila, known for his voting rights litigation, died on March 9 at the age of 69.

The cause of death was colon and liver cancer, the New York Times reports. The Associated Press and the Washington Post also have stories. Obituaries have also been posted by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Seattle University School of Law.

A Harvard law graduate, Avila joined MALDEF in 1975 as a staff attorney. He went on to direct the organization’s voting rights program, and was president and general counsel of the group from 1982 to 1985.

According to AP, during his time at MALDEF, “Avila was involved in multiple groundbreaking court victories that led to more Latinos working as electricians, firefighters and border guards, and allowed parents in the country illegally to enroll their children in public schools without paying tuition.”

He was also one of the driving forces behind the California Voting Rights Act, which allows voters to challenge at-large election systems that dilute the voting strength of minorities.

Avila was involved in more than 70 voting rights cases during his career, while at MALDEF and after he left the organization. He litigated two voting rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Avila was instrumental in the Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe, which struck down a Texas law in 1982 that had allowed public school districts to ban or charge tuition to children who are in the country illegally.

Avila won a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” in 1996. He told the ABA Journal at that time that the $295,000 award would allow him to continue his voting rights work at least through the year 2000. Before the call came, he was operating courtroom graphics business on the side, limiting his practice to a single case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court—Lopez v. Monterey County.

The court’s 1996 decision in Lopez blocked a federal court plan for judicial elections in a consolidated district in the central California county that had not received federal preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The case returned to the Supreme Court in 1999, when it upheld the constitutionality of Section 5.

Avila joined the Seattle University School of Law as an assistant professor in 2005 and founded the school’s National Voting Rights Advocacy Initiative in 2009. He was unable to teach full-time after suffering a stroke in 2011.

Avila is survived by his wife, Sally, and three children.

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Hacked ‘Panama Papers’ law firm Mossack Fonseca to shut down

Law Firms

Mossack Fonseca logo/Twitter.

A Panamanian law firm that got hacked, exposing the files of its wealthy clients, will shut down at the end of the month.

Mossack Fonseca said the closure was the result of “irreversible damage” from the April 2016 information leak, report the Guardian, the American Lawyer and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The data leak produced worldwide reports about offshore wealth of prominent people and world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The firm announced the shutdown on Wednesday. “The reputational deterioration, the media campaign, the financial circus and the unusual actions by certain Panamanian authorities, have occasioned an irreversible damage that necessitates the obligatory ceasing of public operations at the end of the current month,” its said in a statement.

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Mueller reportedly subpoenas Trump Organization for documents

Criminal Justice

Special counsel Robert Mueller.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has reportedly subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents and emails, “bringing the investigation closer to the president,” the New York Times reports.

The Times relied on two anonymous sources for its story, which said some of the documents sought are related to Russia. The Wall Street Journal and CNN are among several outlets that followed with stories.

The organization has previously said it voluntarily provided documents to the special counsel. A source told CNN that the intent of the subpoena was to “clean up” and ensure all relevant documents are turned over.

Mueller has reportedly asked witnesses about discussions relating to a potential deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Michael Cohen, the personal lawyer for President Donald Trump, has said he discussed the possibility of building the tower with the former candidate three times during the campaign. Cohen told Trump the deal was killed during their third conversation.

Alan Futerfas, a lawyer representing the Trump Organization, said in a statement provided to the publications that since last July, the organization has been “fully cooperative.”

“This is old news and our assistance and cooperation with the various investigations remains the same today,” Futefas said.

According to the Times, the subpoena comes amid indications that Mueller may be examining whether foreign money helped fund Trump’s political activities.

McClatchy News has previously reported that the FBI is investigating whether a Russian banker funneled funds to the National Rifle Association to help Trump. The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff of California, tells McClatchy that committee Democrats want to learn more.

“Whether there was an effort by Russia to create a back channel or assist the Trump campaign through the NRA or gun-rights groups is an open question the committee’s minority has endeavored to answer for the past year,” he said.

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When Can A Bank Refuse To Accept A Power Of Attorney (Part 4)

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Power of Attorney Lawyer

Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this series addressed the topic of when a bank can refuse to accept a Power of Attorney. The final part of this series will continue this discussion and dive further into the statutes in New Jersey.

Of course, the bank has every right to seek proof that the agent is, in fact, the person, he or she says that they are and can demand forms of identification.   If the bank rejects the Power of Attorney, the institution is supposed to notify the Agent, in writing, that it has rejected the Power of Attorney and the reasons for the rejection.  Good luck on that.  I have yet to see a bank send a rejection letter and the reasons for that rejection under any circumstances and the families that I represent.   Of course, this assumes that the bank has been given the name and the address of the agent seeking to use the Power of Attorney.

The Statute also talks about the use of photocopies of Powers.   A bank can accept a photocopy of the Power, if it is a certified true original, either by (1) another banking institution or (2) by having a copy of the recorded Power of Attorney in the County in which the original was located.  Here is where it gets really tricky, the use of photocopies.  While the law does not require a Power of Attorney to be recorded and I am not necessarily advocating for the recording of a Power of Attorney, there is some merit in recording it, in case an original is lost.  We have a practice in our office of making multiple originals in the event that more than one original is either misplaced or never returned to the Agent but I am aware of many practitioners that do not follow that process.   I am even aware of fewer attorneys recording Powers of Attorney except in connection with real estate transactions.

I hope that this series of posts have been informational.   In these times of fraud, misrepresentation, deceit, theft, elder financial abuse and exploitation, it is a constant battle between the good and the bad in order to have the Power of Attorney recognized for a lawful and honorable purpose.

To discuss your NJ Power of Attorney matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.

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