Outcry as Alabama death row inmate Kenneth Smith is executed with nitrogen: Updates

United Nations Says Alabama Execution With Nitrogen Could Be Torture

Alabama death row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith has been executed by being suffocated with nitrogen gas – the first person in US history to be put to death using the method.

Smith, 58, was pronounced dead at 8.25pm CT on Thursday at the William C Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama, almost three decades after he was convicted in the 1988 murder-for-hire plot of Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett.

It comes after the supreme court denied an 11th-hour request for a stay of execution. The ruling received dissent from justice Sonia Sotomayor who wrote that the state had selected Smith as a “guinea pig” by using the untested method.

Smith was fitted with a face mask that blocked oxygen and caused nitrogen asphyxia – a move widely condemned by both the UNs and human rights groups.

In November 2022, Smith survived his first painful, botched execution by lethal injection, when officials struggled to insert an intravenous line into his system. After that, Smith said he favoured the nitrogen gas method.

Since then, his attorneys have sought to block the execution due to risks he would suffocate on his own vomit or be left in a vegetative state.


Smith feared nitrogen gas method would be used by more states

In an interview days before his execution, the death row inmate in Alabama warned Americans that if his nitrogen execution were successful that process could be adopted by other states.

Kenneth Eugene Smith on Thursday became the first person in US history to be executed with nitrogen gas.

Smith told The Guardian in a phone call from his prison cell that he was not ready to die and had been diagnosed with PTSD caused by his first failed execution attempt. He said he suffered from sleeplessness and anxiety.

Smith said he was terrified by the prospect of vomiting in the mask leading and had appealed to people to show mercy for inmates facing judicial killings.

“You know, brother, I’d say, ‘Leave room for mercy’. That just doesn’t exist in Alabama. Mercy really doesn’t exist in this country when it comes to difficult situations like mine,” he told the newspaper.

“I fear that it will be successful, and you will have a nitrogen system coming to your state very soon,” he added.

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar26 January 2024 04:40


Who was Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett?

Alabama death row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith was executed on Thursday, almost three decades after he was convicted in the 1988 murder-for-hire plot of Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett.

Sennett was found dead in her home on 18 March 1988 with eight stab wounds in the chest and one on each side of her neck. Smith was one of two men convicted in the killing. The other, John Forrest Parker, was executed in 2010.

Prosecutors said they were each paid $1,000 (£786) to kill Sennett on behalf of her pastor husband, who was deeply in debt and wanted to collect on insurance. The husband, Charles Sennett Sr, killed himself when the investigation focused on him as a suspect, according to court documents.

Smith’s 1989 conviction was overturned, but he was convicted again in 1996. The jury recommended a life sentence by 11-1, but a judge overrode that and sentenced him to death.

The victim’s son, Charles Sennett Jr, earlier told WAAY-TV that Smith “has to pay for what he’s done”.

“And some of these people out there say, ‘Well, he doesn’t need to suffer like that.’ Well, he didn’t ask Mama how to suffer?” he said.

“They just did it. They stabbed her — multiple times.”

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar26 January 2024 03:50


Kenneth Smith was ‘terrified’ at the possible torture

Rev Jeff Hood, who was with Kenneth Simth during his last hours, said the inmate was terrified before the execution.

“He’s terrified at the torture that could come. But he’s also at peace. One of the things he told me is he is finally getting out,” Mr Hood told the Associated Press.

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar26 January 2024 03:28


Death row inmate’s statement before nitrogen execution

Alabama death row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith in his final statement said humanity took a step backwards in Alabama.

“Tonight Alabama causes humanity to take a step backwards. … I’m leaving with love, peace and light,” he said.

He made the “I love you sign” with his hands toward family members who were witnesses. “Thank you for supporting me. Love, love all of you,” Smith said.

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar26 January 2024 03:12


Alabama Governor says Smith case ‘can finally be put to rest’

In a statement following Kenneth Smith’s execution, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said the case could “finally be put to rest”.

“On March 18, 1988, 45-year-old Elizabeth Sennett’s life was brutally taken from her by Kenneth Eugene Smith,” Governor Ivey said.

“After more than 30 years and attempt after attempt to game the system, Mr. Smith has answered for his horrendous crimes.

“The execution was lawfully carried out by nitrogen hypoxia, the method previously requested by Mr Smith as an alternative to lethal injection. At long last, Mr. Smith got what he asked for, and this case can finally be put to rest.

“I pray that Elizabeth Sennett’s family can receive closure after all these years dealing with that great loss.”


Kenneth Smith put to death using nitrogen gas in first-of-its-kind US execution

Alabama Death Row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith has been executed with nitrogen gas.

It marks the first time the US has used the method to put an individual to death, and has brought the debate over capital punishment in the US back into the spotlight.

Alabama state officials said the method would be humane, but critics called it cruel and experimental.

Officials said Smith, 58, was pronounced dead at 8:25 p.m. at an Alabama prison after breathing pure nitrogen gas through a face mask to cause oxygen deprivation, according to The Associated Press.

It marked the first time that a new execution method has been used in the United States since lethal injection, now the most commonly used method, was introduced in 1982.

Mike Bedigan26 January 2024 02:37


Supreme Court justices dissent to denial of Smith’s application to stay execution

Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson also dissented to the Supreme COurt’s denial of the application for a stay of execution for Kenneth Smith.

In the court ruling the pair, like Justice Sonia Sotomayor expressed concern at the “novel” method of execution – suffocation with nitrogen gas. “The State’s protocol was developed only recently, and is even now under revision to prevent Smith from choking on his own vomit,” the wrote.

“The State has declined to provide Smith with all the discovery respecting its protocol which he has requested. And Smith has a well-documented medical condition posing special risks from the State’s newly chosen method of execution.”


Supreme Court denies Kenneth Smith stay of execution request

On Thursday evening the request for a stay of execution by Kenneth Smith’s lawyers was once again denied.

The ruling received dissent from Justice Sonia Sotomayor who wrote that the state of Alabama had selected Smith as a “guinea pig” by using the untested method of execution – suffocation by nitrogen gas.

“The world is watching. This court yet again allows Alabama to ‘experiment… with human life’,” Justice Sotomayor wrote.

Mike Bedigan26 January 2024 01:03


Executing Alabama inmate with nitrogen gas would be ‘torture’ says UN official

The UN has previously said that the scheduled execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith using the new and experimental method of asphyxiation by nitrogen gas would amount to “torture”.

The wholly untested procedure has been decried as inhumane by death penalty experts and deemed unfit even for killing most mammals.

Read the full story here:


Kenneth Smith lawyers continue to push for execution stay

Kenneth Eugene Smith was not provided with a full copy of the protocol for his execution by nitrogen hypoxia until November 2023, his lawyers have said, as they once again petitioned for a stay of execution.

In court documents filed on Thursday, lawyers said that Smith “did not endorse (and could not have endorsed) the procedures in the Protocol before he had seen them”.

“Mr Smith has not walked away from his allegation that nitrogen hypoxia is a feasible and available alternative method of execution to lethal injection. When he made the argument he had not seen ADOC’s Protocol for executing condemned people by nitrogen hypoxia,” the filing stated.

“He was only provided with a heavily redacted copy of the Protocol in late August, at the same time that the State informed him that he would be the first person subject to it and moved in the Alabama Supreme Court for authority to execute him under its procedures.

“Mr Smith did not receive an unredacted copy of the Protocol until late November when the district court ordered Respondents to produce it. Mr Smith did not endorse (and could not have endorsed) the procedures in the Protocol before he had seen them.”

The filing continued: “And, of course, the ‘devil is in the details’ of the Protocol, so his current challenge is to the procedures in the Protocol—specifically to the use of a mask to deliver nitrogen instead of other feasible and available alternatives, including a hood or a closed chamber—not to nitrogen hypoxia per se.

“When the State permitted condemned people in Alabama to elect nitrogen hypoxia as the method of their execution, ADOC adopted an election form that expressly provided that those condemned people so electing did not ‘waive [their] right to challenge the constitutionality of any protocol adopted for carrying out execution by nitrogen hypoxia.’

“Neither did Mr. Smith when he alleged that nitrogen hypoxia was a feasible and available alternative method of execution in the Lethal Injection Action.”

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