nitrogen gas, Alabama, execution, death penalty, lethal injection,

Nitrogen Gas Used For First Time To Execute Man In Alabama

The usage of nitrogen gas has caused a debate about capital punishment.

According to The Associated Press, the country has executed a convicted murderer using nitrogen gas for the first time.

Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, was executed on Jan. 25 at an Alabama state prison by breathing in pure nitrogen gas through a face mask to be deprived of oxygen. This was the first time the new method was used in the United States since lethal injection was first introduced in 1982. 

Its usage has renewed debates about capital punishment. The state sees the method as humane, while others describe it as cruel and experimental. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey described his execution as justice for the 1988 murder-for-hire killing of 45-year-old Elizabeth Sennett.

“After more than 30 years and attempt after attempt to game the system, Mr. Smith has answered for his horrendous crimes,” Ivey said. “I pray that Elizabeth Sennett’s family can receive closure after all these years dealing with that great loss.”

Court records from the Alabama Attorney General’s Office said, “Elizabeth welcomed Smith and his accomplice into her home, and they savagely beat her and stabbed the defenseless woman eight times in the chest and once on each side of the neck.” 

More states have been finding new ways to perform prison executions, as lethal injection drugs have been difficult to find. Only three states — Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahoma — have authorized the usage of nitrogen hypoxia as a method, but none have used the untested method until now.

The nitrogen gas execution was completed in about 22 minutes between the opening and closing of the viewing room curtains. Smith seemed conscious for a while, but for almost two minutes, the prisoner seemed shaky, often pulling against the restraints. Long minutes of heavy breathing followed between the opening and closing of the curtains to the viewing room until breathing was no longer visible.

Smith’s final words were, “Tonight Alabama causes humanity to take a step backwards … I’m leaving with love, peace and light.” Afterward, he signaled the “I love you sign” with his hands toward witnessing family members. “Thank you for supporting me. Love, love all of you,” he said.

According to AL, after the warden took the microphone away and left the room, Smith spoke with his spiritual advisor, Rev. Jeff Hood. Hood touched Smith’s feet with his Bible and continued to pray for him throughout the execution. 

This wasn’t the state’s first attempt at Smith’s death. He was first scheduled to be executed on Nov. 17, 2022, but the attempt failed after workers couldn’t start a line for the lethal injection drugs before the state’s execution warrant expired at midnight. 

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