Alabama Executes Kenneth Smith Using Nitrogen Gas, Raising Concerns Over Cruelty and Unusual Method

ATMORE, Alabama – Alabama is preparing to execute Kenneth Smith using nitrogen gas, a method that has never been tested before in the state. Smith, who survived a failed attempt at lethal injection in 2022, is scheduled to be put to death for his involvement in a 1988 murder-for-hire case. However, experts have expressed concerns about the potential for the use of nitrogen gas to cause excessive pain or a torturous death.

The state has kept key details about the execution method, called nitrogen hypoxia, under wraps, leading to speculation about how it will be carried out. The Alabama Department of Corrections has redacted portions of the published execution protocol, citing security reasons. However, the state claims that death by nitrogen gas is the most humane method of execution to date.

Smith and his spiritual adviser, Reverend Jeff Hood, have voiced skepticism about the new method. They have called attention to the moral implications of suffocating prisoners and have urged the public not to turn a blind eye to the impending execution. On the other hand, the sons of the victim feel that Smith’s sentence should be carried out, as they believe their mother has been forgotten amid the focus on Smith and the execution method.

The execution has faced legal challenges, but the US Supreme Court declined to intervene. Alabama officials welcomed the court’s decision, stating that they remain confident in the execution proceeding as planned. However, critics of the state are worried about the use of nitrogen gas, particularly due to Alabama’s recent struggles with carrying out lethal injections.

Alabama adopted nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method in 2018, making it one of three states that have approved the use of nitrogen for capital punishment. Advocates argue that the process, which replaces the air breathed by the inmate with nitrogen, will be painless. However, skeptics, including United Nations experts, have raised concerns about the potential for a painful and humiliating death.

Aside from the execution method, Smith’s advocates argue that his life should be spared based on the previous failed attempt to execute him. They question the state’s competence in carrying out executions, especially with a new and untested method. Smith’s case has attracted attention, not only due to the controversial execution method, but also because of the circumstances surrounding the murder-for-hire crime.

In 1988, Smith was convicted of killing Elizabeth Sennett, who was the wife of a man having an affair. The crime was carried out as part of a plot orchestrated by Sennett’s husband, who had taken out an insurance policy on her life. Smith was initially sentenced to death, but an appeals court ordered a new trial. Although the second jury recommended a sentence of life without parole, the judge overrode their decision and imposed the death penalty.

As the scheduled execution looms, concerns about the use of nitrogen gas and the broader issues surrounding capital punishment persist. The case of Kenneth Smith serves as a contentious example, highlighting the ongoing debates and complexities surrounding the use of different execution methods in the United States.

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