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25 Jan, 2024 13:27

US Supreme Court approves first nitrogen execution

Kenneth Eugene Smith will be put to death using a method that advocates say is painless
US Supreme Court approves first nitrogen execution

The US Supreme Court has denied a request to halt the execution of a convicted murderer by nitrogen gas. Kenneth Eugene Smith will be the first death row inmate to be put to death using this supposedly painless method later on Thursday.

The court’s nine justices agreed unanimously on Wednesday not to hear an appeal from Smith that would have temporarily kept him from the execution chamber at Alabama’s Holman Correctional Facility. Smith took his case to the Supreme Court after a district court ruled earlier this month that the execution could go ahead as planned.

Smith will be put to death using an untested method: nitrogen gas hypoxia. Once in the death chamber, he will be made to breathe the gas through a respirator, depriving his body of oxygen and causing him to slip into unconsciousness before passing away.

Nitrogen hypoxia is “the most painless and humane method of execution known to man,” the Alabama attorney general’s office argued in court earlier this month. Smith’s defense team pointed out that the method has not been tested in the US, and that the American Veterinary Medical Association banned the use of nitrogen in euthanizing most mammals, as being put into an “anoxic environment … is distressing for some species.”

Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the state of Alabama has 30 hours to execute Smith. For Smith, it will be his second time in the death chamber, after executioners failed to connect intravenous lines to his veins in 2020 in order to administer a lethal injection.

Smith was sentenced to death in 1996 for murdering a preacher’s wife eight years previously. Together with an accomplice who was executed in 2010, Smith stabbed the woman to death in exchange for $1,000. Church of Christ pastor Charles Sennett Sr is believed to have commissioned the hit on his own spouse, in the hope of cashing in on a life-insurance policy. He took his own life when the murder investigation focused on him as a suspect.

Some 27 US states and the federal government practice capital punishment, with lethal injection the primary method of execution. However, botched lethal injections are not uncommon, and autopsy data suggests that the method is often excruciatingly painful. The pharmaceutical firm that manufactures the anesthetic most commonly used in executions suspended production in 2009, and with remaining batches mostly expired, states have turned to alternate methods in recent years.

Some 27 US states and the federal government practice capital punishment, with lethal injection the primary method of execution. However, botched lethal injections are not uncommon, and autopsy data suggests that the method is often excruciatingly painful. The pharmaceutical firm that manufactures the anesthetic most commonly used in executions suspended production in 2009, and with remaining batches mostly expired, states have turned to alternate methods in recent years.

Idaho, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Utah now permit executions by firing squad, while Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee allow the use of the electric chair. Seven states, including Alabama, allow the use of gas chambers. Some states allow the condemned to choose their preferred method, while others only offer alternate methods if lethal injection is not available.



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