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AZ Inmate Must Decide: Execution by Holocaust Gas or Lethal Injection

A death row inmate in Arizona has two weeks to decide whether to be executed with cyanide gas, the poison known as Zyklon B used by the Nazis to murder millions Auschwitz and other extermination camps, the Guardian reports. On Tuesday, the state supreme court issued an execution warrant for Frank Atwood that, barring last-minute appeals, will see him put to death on June 8. He has until May 19 to choose his preferred method of death – either lethal injection or hydrogen cyanide, a poisonous gas made notorious by the Nazis as a mass killing technique during the Holocaust. Atwood’s lawyers are trying to persuade the condemned man not to opt for cyanide. They point out that the last time Arizona used the gas to kill two prisoners in the 1990s, it led to gruesome and prolonged deaths lasting in one case 18 minutes, during which time the prisoner was observed to suffer “agonizing choking and gagging.”


Arizona is the only state with a working gas chamber, though seven states have lethal gas in some form on their execution protocols. Last year, the corrections department dusted off its gas chamber in Florence, which had been unused for two decades, and spent more than $2,000 procuring the ingredients of cyanide gas. Now Atwood is faced with the choice of dying by this method. Should he take the cyanide option, he would become the first person this century to be executed using the “Holocaust gas.” Atwood’s late mother, Alice, came from a Jewish family in Vienna. She fled Austria in 1939, escaping Gestapo persecution and possible murder in the Nazi gas chambers. The alternative death protocol allowed by Arizona – lethal injection – also holds out the prospect of an agonizing and torturous death.

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