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US State of Alabama executes inmate through nitrogen hypoxia

Friday, January 26th 2024 - 10:19 UTC
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“Tonight Alabama caused humanity to take a step backward,” Smith said “Tonight Alabama caused humanity to take a step backward,” Smith said

Kenneth Eugene Smith, an inmate in the US State of Alabama, Thursday became the first person ever to be put to death through the controversial nitrogen hypoxia mechanism.

“Tonight Alabama caused humanity to take a step backward. I'm leaving with love, peace, and light. Thank you for supporting me. Love all of you,” were his last words. Smith received 9 visitors and took one phone call Thursday. He had a final meal of steak, hash browns, and eggs. Smith had already survived a botched lethal injection in November 2022 when executioners tried unsuccessfully to insert needles into a suitable vein. That failure, among a series of problematic executions using lethal injection in the state, prompted Alabama officials to pause the practice in 2022 and re-evaluate. “Having failed to kill Smith on its first attempt, Alabama has selected him as its 'guinea pig' to test a method of execution never attempted before,” Federal Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote.

“The execution was lawfully carried out by nitrogen hypoxia, the method previously requested by Mr. Smith as an alternative to lethal injection,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said. “At long last, Mr. Smith got what he asked for, and this case can finally be put to rest,” she added after the inmate was pronounced dead at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore at 8:25 pm local time. “After more than 30 years and attempt after attempt to game the system, Mr. Smith has answered for his horrendous crimes,” Ivey also said in a statement. “I pray that Elizabeth Sennett's family can receive closure after all these years dealing with that great loss.”

The procedure had started at 7:53 pm, Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Q. Hamm explained. He also said Smith appeared to be holding his breath as long as he could. He added that there was some “involuntary movement” that was expected, and that “nothing was out of the ordinary.“

Smith, 58, was strapped to a gurney and made to breathe nitrogen gas through a mask, depriving him of oxygen. Nitrogen kept flowing for about 15 minutes. Media witnesses said he appeared conscious for several minutes into the execution, and then he appeared to shake and writhe on the gurney for two minutes. That was followed by several minutes of deep breaths until his breathing slowed and it was no longer perceptible.

”We are deeply saddened that the state of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Corrections have executed Kenneth Eugene Smith,“ his legal team pointed out. ”Kenny was subject to the death penalty only because his trial judge applied a since-repealed Alabama statute to override the jury's 11 to 1 determination that his life should be spared – a practice that not only is unavailable under current Alabama law but also has since been declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court,“ the counselors also noted in a statement. ”There currently are efforts in the Alabama legislature to ensure that inmates like Kenny, who are on death row only because a judge overrode a jury's measured determination to spare their lives, won't suffer the same fate that he did today. Unfortunately, those efforts, if successful, will be too late for Kenny.“

”Kenneth Smith made some bad decisions 35 years ago, and his debt was paid tonight,“ said Mike Sennett, a son of the woman Smith and an accomplice stabbed to death for US$ 1,000 from Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett's preacher husband who wanted to collect the insurance money to face his multiple debts. Smith looked like ”a fish out of water for some time, but not too bad,“ he also said after witnessing the execution.

Smith and his spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeff Hood, said in a statement Thursday afternoon before the execution that ”the eyes of the world are on this impending moral apocalypse.“

”Our prayer is that people will not turn their heads. We simply cannot normalize the suffocation of each other,” they went on.

Alabama is one of three states that technically allows nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative capital punishment method. Oklahoma and Mississippi are the only other two. Smith's execution was preceded by concerns about the possibility of the inmate suffering cruel and unnecessary pain that would render the method unconstitutional. A colorless and odorless gas, nitrogen is only safe to inhale when it is mixed with an appropriate concentration of oxygen.

Smith was convicted of murdering Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett in northwestern Alabama's Colbert County alongside John Forrest Parker. Each perpetrator was paid US$ 1,000 from Rev. Charles Sennett, Sr., the pastor of the Westside Church of Christ in the city of Sheffield. The religious man committed suicide one week after his wife's murder, once the investigation considered him a suspect. He had originally hired Billy Williams for the job, who in turn recruited Smith and Parker.

While committing the crime, Smith took a video cassette recorder from the Sennett residence, which investigators later found in his home and carried decisive weight in his conviction. He also confessed to his role in the murder. A judge overruled the jury's recommendation that both defendants be given life imprisonment sentences without the possibility of release on parole. Parker was executed by lethal injection in June 2010. In 2017 Alabama became the last state to strike its law allowing judges to override jury recommendations when it involves capital punishment.

Categories: Politics, United States.

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