Alabama could be the first state to execute a prisoner by forcing him to inhale only nitrogen

News & Politics

Alabama could be the first state to execute a prisoner by inhaling nitrogen. The Alabama attorney general’s office asked the state Supreme Court on Friday to set a date for the execution of death row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith.

The Associated Press reported that a court filing indicated the state plans to put Smith to death using nitrogen hypoxia. The execution has been authorized in three states, but it has never been used.

Alabama authorized the use of nitrogen hypoxia in 2018 when there was a shortage of drugs to carry out lethal injections, but it was never used. Mississippi and Oklahoma are the two other states to authorize nitrogen hypoxia, but neither have carried out an execution this way.

However, the revelation that Alabama is prepared to use nitrogen hypoxia is expected to trigger another round of legal battles. The constitutionality of this method of execution is controversial.

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The Equal Justice Initiative, a legal advocacy group that has focused on death penalties, claimed Alabama has a history of “failed and flawed executions and execution attempts,” adding that “experimenting with a never before used method is a terrible idea.”

The group’s senior attorney, Angie Setzer, said: “No state in the country has executed a person using nitrogen hypoxia and Alabama is in no position to experiment with a completely unproven and unused method for executing someone.”

Alabama previously attempted to execute Smith by lethal injection in 2022, but it was eventually called off due to the difficulty of inserting the IV into his veins. It was the state’s second instance in just two months of not being able to put someone to death, and it was third since 2018, per the report.

After Smith’s execution was called off, Governor Kay Ivey put a stop to executions for the purpose of conducting an internal review of procedures of lethal injection. The state resumed lethal injections just last month.

Smith was one of two men in 1988 who carried out the murder of a preacher’s wife. The incident was reportedly a murder-for-hire.

“It is a travesty that Kenneth Smith has been able to avoid his death sentence for nearly 35 years after being convicted of the heinous murder-for-hire slaying of an innocent woman,” Attorney General Steve Marshall said.

Several Alabama inmates, including Smith, have sought to block their executions by lethal injection. They have argued that they should be able to die by nitrogen hypoxia.

Nitrogen hypoxia is caused by someone inhaling only nitrogen, withholding oxygen from the body. Nitrogen makes up 78% of the air breathed in by humans, but it is harmless when it was inhaled with oxygen.

While some have claimed the new method would be painless, there are those who amount it to human experimentation.

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