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Alabama set to execute inmate using nitrogen for first time

 August 27, 2023

Alabama is considering the use of nitrogen hypoxia for the execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith, the man convicted for the murder of a preacher's wife back in 1988.

If approved, this would be the first application of this method on an American death row inmate, as the Daily Mail reported.

Background on Nitrogen Hypoxia

Nitrogen constitutes approximately 78% of the air humans breathe and is deemed harmless when combined with oxygen.

Advocates for nitrogen hypoxia suggest its painless nature as a chief advantage. Alabama greenlit this method in 2018 due to a scarcity of drugs traditionally used in lethal injections.

However, the state hasn't previously employed this method for executions. Oklahoma and Mississippi have also sanctioned the use of nitrogen hypoxia, yet they, too, have abstained from utilizing it.

The recent decision by Alabama is anticipated to ignite legal disputes concerning the method's constitutionality.

Smith's Crime and Prior Execution Attempts

In 1988, Kenneth Smith, alongside another individual, was paid $1,000 to assassinate Elizabeth Sennett.

The motive was traced back to her husband, Charles Sennett Sr., a preacher, who aimed to cash in on life insurance, burdened by debts.

However, Charles took his own life once investigators began to suspect his involvement. The other accomplice, John Forrest Parker, met his fate on the execution platform in 2010.

Last year, an effort was made to execute Smith via lethal injection, but it was halted due to complications in setting up the intravenous line.

This was Alabama's second impediment in two months and its third since 2018. In the wake of that development, Gov. Kay Ivey temporarily halted all executions, prompting an evaluation of lethal injection processes, which only resumed last month.

In a statement, Attorney General Steve Marshall expressed his distress over Smith's delayed execution.

He emphasized the severity of Smith's crime, noting that justice has been waiting for almost 35 years since his conviction for the planned killing of Elizabeth Sennett.

Pending Protocol Announcement

While Alabama has spent years refining the nitrogen hypoxia execution process, specifics about its implementation remain undisclosed.

Corrections Commissioner John Hamm intimated last month that a detailed protocol is almost ready.

Several death row inmates in Alabama, including Smith, have contended that they should be executed through nitrogen hypoxia instead of lethal injection.

Sennett was found dead on March 18, 1988, and the subsequent exposure of those who orchestrated her killing sent shockwaves through the tight-knit community of north Alabama.