MONTGOMERY, Alabama – Kenneth Smith, a convicted murderer from Alabama, is poised to become the first inmate in America to be executed using nitrogen gas. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Smith’s appeal to stop his execution, which is scheduled for Thursday. The court’s decision comes after Smith’s attempt to challenge the constitutionality of using nitrogen gas as the method of execution failed. Smith’s case has drawn attention due to the botched lethal injection he survived in 2022, prompting a review of the state’s death penalty procedures.
The Supreme Court’s denial of Smith’s request to stay his execution also included rejecting his legal challenge, claiming that a second execution attempt by Alabama would violate the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Smith is separately contesting the legality of Alabama’s nitrogen gas protocol, which his lawyers have described as “recently released and untested.”
Alabama’s nitrogen gas protocol, known as nitrogen hypoxia, involves placing a mask connected to a cylinder of nitrogen over the prisoner’s face to deprive them of oxygen. A state attorney argued that this method is “the most painless and humane method of execution known to man.”
Smith’s botched execution was the third consecutive instance where Alabama officials encountered problems or delays inserting intravenous lines for a scheduled lethal injection, according to court filings. His lawyers have characterized the experience as torture and exposed him to severe mental anguish.
Smith was convicted of the 1988 killing of Elizabeth Sennett, who was stabbed repeatedly and beaten with a blunt object. The case gained attention due to Smith’s accomplice, who was also convicted and sentenced to death, and executed in 2010. States with the death penalty face challenges in obtaining the drugs used in lethal injection protocols, due in part to a European ban on pharmaceutical companies selling drugs to be used in executions.
Alabama, along with Mississippi and Oklahoma, has introduced new gas-based protocols as an alternative to lethal injection. Smith’s impending execution has ignited debate and drawn attention to the evolving methods of administering the death penalty in the United States.