Alabama Supreme Court Approves Execution by Nitrogen Gas
The divided Alabama high court ruled the state can proceed with the execution of an inmate using an untested nitrogen gas method.
The Alabama Supreme Court has cleared the way for the state to carry out an execution by nitrogen gas, a method that has never been used to execute an inmate. In a divided 6-2 decision, the all-Republican Alabama high court granted the state’s request for an execution warrant for inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith.
While the order did not specify the execution method, the Alabama attorney general stated the state intends to execute Smith using nitrogen gas. This would make Alabama the first state to attempt an execution with nitrogen, although Oklahoma and Mississippi have also authorized nitrogen hypoxia as an approved execution method.
Smith was convicted in the 1988 murder-for-hire killing of Elizabeth Sennett in Alabama. The state unsuccessfully tried to execute Smith by lethal injection last year, but called off the execution when the team could not get intravenous lines connected.
The Alabama attorney general said the ruling clears the way for Smith’s execution by nitrogen gas after 35 years. However, Smith’s attorneys are likely to continue challenging the proposed execution method.
Under nitrogen hypoxia, the inmate would only breathe nitrogen, depriving them of the oxygen needed to maintain bodily functions and causing death. Supporters theorize it would be painless, but critics have argued it amounts to human experimentation.
The execution warrant approved by the court does not specify a date for Smith’s execution by nitrogen gas. The exact date will be scheduled later by the Alabama governor.
The majority opinion grants Alabama the authority to move forward with the untested execution method. However, the two dissenting justices objected to using Smith as the test case for an unprecedented nitrogen gas execution.
With the court approving the execution warrant, Alabama is poised to become the first state to attempt an execution by nitrogen hypoxia if the lawsuit challenging the method does not succeed. The execution would mark the culmination of efforts to enforce the death penalty sentence against Smith for his role in the high-profile murder case that shocked the community.