Alabama breaks ground with first-ever nitrogen asphyxiation execution

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey confirmed execution on Thursday evening, emphasising state’s adoption of simpler alternative to lethal injections

Kenneth Smith will be taken to the death chamber for a second time. — AFP
Kenneth Smith will be taken to the death chamber for a second time. — AFP 

Alabama has executed convicted murderer Kenneth Smith through nitrogen asphyxiation, marking the state’s inaugural use of this method. 

Governor Kay Ivey confirmed the execution on Thursday evening, emphasising the state’s adoption of this approach as a purportedly simpler alternative to lethal injections.

The new protocol, hailed by Alabama as “the most painless and humane method of execution known to man,” faced opposition from United Nations human rights experts and Smith’s legal team. This controversy arose due to concerns about the experimental nature of nitrogen asphyxiation, its potential risks, and the possibility of a torturous or non-fatal outcome.

Smith, who survived a previous botched attempt by lethal injection, had been at the center of legal battles aimed at preventing his execution. Alabama prison officials, along with journalists who witnessed the event, are expected to provide detailed briefings later this Thursday evening.

Kenneth Smith, convicted in 1988 for a murder-for-hire case, gained notoriety as a rare inmate who had already endured a failed execution attempt. 

In November 2022, officials in Alabama halted his lethal injection execution after struggling for hours to establish an intravenous line.

Governor Ivey, reflecting on the execution, stated, “On March 18, 1988, 45-year-old Elizabeth Sennett’s life was brutally taken from her by Kenneth Eugene Smith. After more than 30 years and attempt after attempt to game the system, Mr. Smith has answered for his horrendous crimes.”

The landmark event raises ethical and procedural questions surrounding the use of nitrogen asphyxiation in capital punishment, bringing attention to the ongoing debate on humane execution methods.

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