Alabama trying to become first state to execute prisoner by making him breathe pure nitrogen

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama is trying to become the first state in the country to execute a prison by having them breathe in pure nitrogen.

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On Friday, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall filed a motion to the state’s Supreme Court seeking another execution date for Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, according to The Associated Press. The filing included plans to execute Smith by nitrogen hypoxia, which is reportedly authorized in three states but has not yet been used.

It was authorized in 2018 in Alabama while there was a drug shortage for lethal injections but so far, Alabama has not yet attempted to use it until now, the AP said.

What is nitrogen hypoxia?

Nitrogen hypoxia is where an inmate is forced to breathe only nitrogen, according to the AP. They become deprived of oxygen, which causes them to die.

Normally, nitrogen makes up about 78% of the air humans breathe in and is not harmless because it is combined with oxygen, the AP reported.

Many who are critical of nitrogen hypoxia believe its usage is similar to experimenting on humans while others believe the new method is “painless,” according to the AP.

Kenneth Eugene Smith

According to a news release from Marshall’s office, Smith and a friend were hired by Charles Sennett, the pastor of the Westside Church of Christ in Sheffield, for $1,000 in 1988 to have his wife murdered to be able to collect a large sum of money from an insurance policy on her after finding himself with “substantial debts.”

Elizabeth Sennett was stabbed and beaten to death as a result, reported.

Smith went on trial in 1989 and again in 1996. For both trials, he was convicted of capital murder and given the death sentence, according to the news release.

He was supposed to be executed on Nov. 17, 2022. He survived the execution because the Alabama Department of Corrections could not start an intravenous line for the lethal injection drugs, according to Alabama’s execution warrant was set to expire that night at midnight. It was the third time the Alabama Department of Corrections had issues with accessing inmates’ veins for lethal injection.

“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, Elizabeth Sennett,” Marshall said in the news release.

Following the failure at executing Smith, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey called off executions to review the procedure, which ended in February 2023, reported. This then allowed executions to continue. James Barber was executed last month by lethal injection.

In May, the United States Supreme Court agreed with Smith and ruled that an inmate on death row could be executed by nitrogen hypoxia, reported.