Alabama sets date for first death row execution using nitrogen gas

Officials previously tried to put 58-year-old Kenneth Eugene Smith to death in 2022

Michelle Del Rey
Thursday 09 November 2023 22:09 GMT
Related video: Death row inmate executed after issuing plea to victim’s family in final words

Alabama death row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith is set to become the first person in the US to be executed by nitrogen gas.

The execution next year will be the state’s second attempt to execute Smith following a botched effort by the state Department of Corrections in November 2022.

The second attempt will take place either on 25 January 2024 or before 6am the following day, according to a statement from Republican Governor Kay Ivey’s office.

A jury convicted Smith in 1996 of capital murder for the death of Elizabeth Sennett in 1988. He was part of a two-person team hired to kill the woman in northwestern Alabama.

State Attorney General Steve Marshall said Sennett’s family have waited “an unconscionable 35 years to see justice served”, in a statement posted to X, formerly known as Twitter.

This undated photo provided by the Alabama Department of Corrections shows inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was convicted in a 1988 murder-for-hire slaying of a preacher’s wife
This undated photo provided by the Alabama Department of Corrections shows inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was convicted in a 1988 murder-for-hire slaying of a preacher’s wife (Alabama Department of Corrections)

“Though the wait has been far too long, I am grateful that our talented capital litigators have nearly gotten this case to the finish line.”

In November 2022, Alabama Department of Corrections officials tried to put Smith to death by lethal injection.

However, officials aborted the attempt because the individuals administering the drugs were unable to place intravenous lines into Smith’s system.

According to a complaint filed in federal court on Wednesday, Alabama officials have previously been unsuccessful in putting two other inmates, Joe Nathan James and Alan Eugene Miller, to death using lethal injection.

Robert Grass, an attorney representing Smith said the failed incident has left his client with “severe and ongoing physical and psychological pain including severe post-traumatic stress disorder.”

He further said that executing Smith using nitrogen hypoxia would violate his constitutional rights because he has an appeal pending.

Under state correctional policy, inmates are allowed to exhaust their appeals before being scheduled for execution.

In 2018, the state started requiring each death row inmate to pick either lethal injection or nitrogen hypoxia as their preferred execution method.

Oklahoma and Mississippi have also authorised its use for putting people to death.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, a non-profit, the method puts prisoners to death by suffocation as they breathe in pure nitrogen gas.

The Alabama protocol states that prisoners will be given a mask and breathing tube to control the gas, slowly depriving them of oxygen.

The death penalty is currently allowed in 27 states. Approximately 2,333 prisoners are on death row nationwide, according to data collected by the non-profit.

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