ATMORE, Alabama: Alabama executed convicted murderer Kenneth Eugene Smith on Thursday using nitrogen gas, marking the first time this method has been used in the United States. Smith, 58, was convicted of the 1988 murder-for-hire of a pastor’s wife and had been on death row for over 30 years. He was pronounced dead at 8:25 pm following the execution at Holman Prison in Atmore.
The use of nitrogen hypoxia for execution has been met with criticism from human rights organizations, with many claiming it to be an untested and inhumane method. Witnesses reported that Smith experienced discomfort and heavy breathing for several minutes before being pronounced dead.
Alabama is one of three US states, along with Oklahoma and Mississippi, to approve the use of nitrogen hypoxia for execution. The state has defended the method as “the most humane method of execution ever devised.” However, the United Nations rights office in Geneva has urged Alabama to abandon the use of this “novel and untested” method, citing concerns of potential torture or other cruel and inhumane treatment.
Smith’s execution by nitrogen gas follows a failed attempt in November 2022 to administer a lethal injection, during which prison officials were unable to set intravenous lines. The use of nitrogen gas for execution, while previously used for animals, has never been tested on humans in the United States. This has raised questions about the ethical and legal implications of using such a method for carrying out capital punishment.
Despite the use of nitrogen gas in this execution, public opinion on the death penalty in the United States has been shifting, with a recent Gallup Poll showing that only 53 percent of Americans support it for individuals convicted of murder. Furthermore, capital punishment has been abolished in 23 US states, and six others have halted its use.
The execution of Kenneth Smith raises ethical and legal questions about the methods of execution used in capital punishment, as well as the lengthy time individuals spend on death row. As the debate over the death penalty continues, advocates and opponents alike are closely watching the developments in Alabama and other states that have approved the use of nitrogen hypoxia for execution.