First U.S. Execution with Nitrogen: Kenneth Smith of Alabama Put to Death

Alabama completed the first execution through the use of nitrogen gas in the United States on Thursday evening. The condemned prisoner, convicted murderer Kenneth Smith, was pronounced dead at 8:25 p.m., Central time, following a process that attracted attention due to its novelty and potential for error. The execution began at 7:53 p.m. in Atmore, Ala. Mr. Smith was 58.

Death penalty opponents raised concerns that the untested method could cause Mr. Smith pain and suffering. According to a pool report filed by five Alabama journalists, Mr. Smith seemed conscious for several minutes after the nitrogen gas started flowing into his mask. He then appeared to experience physical discomfort, as he “shook and writhed” for several minutes, followed by heavy breathing. Eventually, his breathing slowed until it was no longer perceptible.

Before the execution, Mr. Smith spoke at length through a witness statement and expressed his disappointment with the state’s actions. “Tonight, Alabama caused humanity to take a step backward,” he said. “I’m leaving with love, peace, and light.” Mr. Smith was convicted for his role in the 1988 murder of Elizabeth Sennett, the wife of a pastor who had arranged her killing. This was the second attempt to execute Mr. Smith due to a previous failed lethal injection in 2022.

Despite the objections of three liberal Supreme Court justices, the execution proceeded without an explanation from the court majority. Alabama officials have since lauded the gas process as effective and humane, providing a possible blueprint for other states. The state’s new method of execution has been greeted with some skepticism by critics, who argue that it could lead to serious difficulties and suffering for the condemned. The court’s decision to allow the execution has drawn scrutiny from those who fear the potential for cruelty associated with the new method.

After Mr. Smith’s death, the victim’s son, Michael Sennett, expressed a range of emotions and mentioned forgiving all those involved in his mother’s death. Alabama’s new method for execution comes in the midst of growing difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs. The White House and President Biden have expressed concerns about the fairness and consistency of the death penalty, particularly after they ended federal executions following the Trump presidency. In Mississippi and Oklahoma, nitrogen hypoxia has been authorized if lethal injection becomes unfeasible.

Alabama’s attempt at carrying out a nitrogen gas execution is emblematic of broader issues faced by states in executing those on death row. Concerns about suffering during the method have led to scrutiny from both advocates and opponents of the death penalty.

Read More Breaking News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *