US state to use Nazi Auschwitz gas in prison executions after chamber ‘refurb’

FLORENCE, AZ – FEBRUARY 11: A German reporter views the gas chamber where inmates condemned to death are executed inside the "Death House" at the main prison complex in Florence, some 80 miles (128 km) southeast of Phoenix, Arizona,11 February. An inmate sentenced to death for an offense committed prior to November 23, 1992 may choose a method of execution, either lethal injection or lethal gas. In the event that an inmate fails to make a choice, the method shall be lethal injection. Two German brothers, Karl and Walter LaGrand, are scheduled to be executed by lethal gas, 24 February and 03 March respectively, for the 1982 murder of a 63-year-old bank manager during a hold-up in Marana, AZ. The brothers would be the first Germans to be executed on US soil since World War II. Karl LaGrand would be the 15th inmate executed in Arizona since the reinstatement of death penalty in 1992, and the third inmate executed in 1999. AFP Photo Mike Fiala/msf AFP Photo Mike FIALA/msf (Photo credit should read MIKE FIALA/AFP via Getty Images)

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A US state has “refurbished” its execution chamber and plans to use the gas Nazis employed to kill almost a million Jews at Auschwitz.

Prison officials in Arizona have spent more than £1,400 on ingredients for hydrogen cyanide for their gas chamber, last used 22 years ago, records show.

Slamming the move, the American Jewish Committee said: “Whether or not one supports the death penalty as a general matter, there is general agreement in American society that a gas devised as a pesticide, and used to eliminate Jews, has no place in the administration of criminal justice.”

Arizona prosecutors have signalled they want to resume capital punishment after a seven-year hiatus, with two prisoners – Frank Atwood and Clarence Dixon.

No one has been executed by gas chamber in America in more than two decades when Walter LaGrand was put to death in 1999.

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Frank Atwood

Walter LaGrand was put to death in 1999
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)

The convicted killer took 18 minutes to die, strapped to a chair choking and gasping for air when he was killed in February 1999 at Arizona’ death chamber at the Florence State Prison.

The local paper, The Tucson Citizen, published aneyewitness account of his death in which he experienced “agonising choking and gagging”.

”The witness room fell silent as a mist of gas rose, much like steam in a shower, and Walter LaGrand became enveloped in a cloud of cyanide vapour,” the paper reported.

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“He began coughing violently – three or four loud hacks – and made a gagging sound before falling forward.”

The witness observed for many minutes LaGrand’s hands were “red and clenched”.

It was the 35-year-old’s death that sparked nationwide outrage and brought an end to the method.

Death row in the ADX (administrative maximum) Supermax Prison in Florence, Colorado
(Image: Sygma via Getty Images)

However, following a shortage of lethal injection drugs after makers refused to sell them to prisons, jailers have been looking at alternatives methods.

Utah can now use death by firing squad while Tennessee passed a law to reinstate the electric chair.

Records show in December, Arizona officials purchased a block of potassium cyanide, sodium hydroxide pellets and sulfuric acid for producing cyanide gas.

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As part of the “Death House” refurbishment, the chamber’s hatch door and windows were replaced, rubber seals renewed, and closing levers on the chamber were lubricated.

According to the records, an extraction fan in the chemical mixing room was repaired, and a smoke grenade was set off inside to ensure the fan and a vent were working.

Arizona, along with Alabama, California, Mississippi, Missouri. Oklahoma and Wyoming technically still have lethal gas as a way to execute an inmate.

The sign 'Arbeit macht frei' (Work makes you free) is pictured at the main gate of the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz in Oswiecim
(Image: REUTERS)

Officials said that death row inmates can opt for the gas chamber due to the law and constitutional requirements if they were convicted of crimes that occurred before Arizona adopted lethal injection in 1992.

Currently, 17 out of 115 death-row inmates in the state meet this criterion.

Dixon was sentenced to death for the 1978 killing of 21-year-old Deana Bowdoin.

Atwood was condemned in 1984 after killing eight-year-old Vicki Lynn Hoskinson, whose body was found in the desert outside Tucson.

Since 2014, executions have been put on hold in Arizona after the death of Joseph Wood, who was executed by lethal injection.

Wood gasped for air and snorted as he was injected with 15 doses of a two-drug combination over two hours.

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