‘The Most Horrible Thing I’ve Ever Seen:’ Alabama Executes Inmate With Experimental Method
Last night, Alabama executed death row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith in what is believed to be the first ever execution by nitrogen hypoxia. The experimental method has come under scrutiny in recent weeks, with a United Nations spokesperson going so far as to declare that the execution method “may amount to torture.”
Smith, 58, was sentenced to death for the 1988 murder-for-hire killing of Elizabeth Sennett, a 45-year-old preacher’s wife in Sheffield, Alabama. The state first attempted to execute Smith in November 2022 but ultimately called off the execution after prison officials failed to place an IV line to begin the lethal injection process.
Smith’s first attempted execution was part of a series of botched executions carried out by Alabama, which led Gov. Kay Ivey to place a moratorium on executions in November 2022. However, she lifted the pause in February 2023, following an opaque internal investigation.
While Alabama began carrying out lethal injection executions again in July 2023, Smith had already initiated a legal battle to be executed instead by suffocation with nitrogen gas, a largely theoretical execution method approved by the state Legislature in 2018.
The state originally pushed back against Smith’s request, arguing that they did not have proper facilities and procedures to kill Smith through the experimental method. But the Supreme Court disagreed, denying cert to the state’s attempt to overturn an earlier ruling allowing Smith to choose execution by nitrogen hypoxia.
In an apparent attempt to save his life, Smith’s lawyers have pivoted in recent months to instead argue that nitrogen hypoxia would lead to a tortuous death for Smith and that the experimental nature of the execution meant that the state could not guarantee a smooth execution.
“The evidence establishes that executing Mr. Smith by nitrogen hypoxia using the Protocol would subject him t
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