Alabama has executed Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, using nitrogen gas, marking the first time this method of capital punishment has been employed globally. Smith, convicted of a 1988 murder-for-hire scheme, had lost appeals arguing against the execution’s cruelty.
Smith was previously scheduled for lethal injection in 2022, but the state failed to execute him due to difficulties in finding a vein. The nitrogen gas method was chosen as an alternative to address challenges associated with lethal injection drugs’ availability.
During the execution, Smith reportedly thrashed violently on the gurney for about 25 minutes, leading to debates about the humaneness of the process. The nitrogen gas causes the breakdown of cells in the body, leading to death.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall defended the execution method, calling it “an effective and humane method.” Governor Kay Ivey stated that Smith had “answered for his horrendous crimes,” expressing hope for closure for the victim’s family.
Kenneth Smith was involved in the murder-for-hire of Elizabeth Sennett in 1988, orchestrated by her debt-ridden husband, Charles Sennett. Sennett hired Smith and another hitman to kill his wife for insurance money.
The execution faced legal challenges, with Smith’s attorneys raising concerns about the untested nature of nitrogen gas execution. The U.S. Supreme Court denied appeals, leading to the execution moving forward.
This event follows Alabama’s approval of nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative execution method due to difficulties in obtaining lethal injection drugs, contributing to a decline in nationwide death penalty usage.