Inmate is executed in Alabama with nitrogen gas, a method never used before


In Alabama, this Thursday, inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith was executed by asphyxiation with nitrogen gas, a method never before used, as authorities reported.

Smith, sentenced to death for hiring a hitman to murder a woman in 1988, was declared dead at 8:25 p.m. local time after inhaling nitrogen gas through a mask and running out of oxygen.

His last words, with the mask on, were: "Tonight Alabama takes humanity a step back. Thank you for supporting me. I love you all."

Journalists who were eyewitnesses to the execution reported that, after the gas began to flow, Smith twisted for a few minutes, and then he was seen breathing heavily for several more minutes.

Alabama Department of Corrections Director John Hamm said in a subsequent press conference that the inmate's convulsions were "involuntary," but nothing out of the ordinary.

The nitrogen gas flowed for about 15 minutes.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the prisoner's defense's final appeal this Thursday, six votes to three, giving the green light to the start of the procedure.

Progressive Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of the three judges who voted to stop the execution, argued that "having failed to kill Smith in his first attempt, Alabama has chosen him as their 'guinea pig' to test a method of execution never before used."

Alabama attempted to execute Smith in November 2022, but the executioner was unable to insert the intravenous lines. As part of a subsequent agreement, Alabama pledged not to attempt to kill him again with a lethal injection.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Community of Sant'Egidio had all called on the United States in recent days not to allow the execution.

Smith was on death row for murdering a woman, Elizabeth Sennett, in 1988, at the behest of her husband, Charles Sennett, who intended to collect insurance money. Smith and an accomplice, John Forrest Parker, each received a thousand dollars.

Sennett committed suicide a week after the murder when he realized that the authorities considered him a suspect, while Parker was also sentenced to death and was executed in 2010 by lethal injection.

"We forgave the three people involved years ago," Mike Sennett said in a press conference alongside his two brothers, the children of the murdered woman, after witnessing the execution of the last of those involved, a feeling they described as "bittersweet."

All eyes were on Alabama and its new execution method, the first developed since the introduction of lethal injection in 1982, which has been the predominant method for the past four decades, displacing the electric chair.

Alabama decided to try asphyxiation with nitrogen gas due to the difficulties that states still using the death penalty have faced in recent years to acquire lethal drugs, as pharmaceutical companies refuse to supply them for this purpose.

Moreover, complications arising from several executions since 2014, some in Alabama, have raised questions about the inhumanity of the method and led to legal disputes for years.

Other states were closely watching the execution in Alabama to introduce nitrogen gas asphyxiation. Oklahoma and Mississippi, in fact, have already approved the method but have not yet developed a protocol for its use or built the necessary facilities.

Since the Supreme Court reintroduced the death penalty in 1976, 1,583 prisoners have been executed in the United States, 73 of them in Alabama.