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Monday March 4th

Controversy surrounds recent Alabama death penalty case

<p><em>Alabama delivered the nation’s first nitrogen hypoxia execution (Photo courtesy of </em><a href="" target=""><em>Wikimedia Commons</em></a><em> / “Julia Tutwiler Prison Wetumpka Alabama” by Rivers A. Langley. CC-BY-SA-3.0. March 16, 2011).</em></p>

Alabama delivered the nation’s first nitrogen hypoxia execution (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons / “Julia Tutwiler Prison Wetumpka Alabama” by Rivers A. Langley. CC-BY-SA-3.0. March 16, 2011).

By Abigail Gilder
Staff Writer

Alabama carried out the nation’s first ever execution by nitrogen hypoxia on Jan. 25.

According to CBS, nitrogen hypoxia execution is when a mask is fitted over the inmate’s face, and pure nitrogen gas is pumped into the inmate until the nitrogen replaces the oxygen. This causes death by asphyxiation. 

Kenneth Smith was sentenced to death in 1988, after he was one of two people convicted in the murder of Elizabeth Sennett. Both guilty parties were paid $1,000 to kill Sennett on behalf of her husband, Charles Sennett, as a way for him to collect on past cumulative debts, according to USA Today.

Smith had previously survived an execution attempt in 2022 by lethal injection, according to NBC. As a result, Smith’s legal team decided to push for a different method of execution; in this case the previously untested nitrogen hypoxia method. His team also submitted multiple appeals to save his life, but all were denied by the U.S. Supreme Court as a result of his past violent crime, according to CNN. 

In the moments before his death, Smith gave a small speech, saying, “I’m leaving with love, peace and light. Thank you for supporting me. Love all of you,” according to CNN. Shortly after, he made an “I love you” sign in sign language towards his family. 

After the execution was successful, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall claimed that the execution was “textbook” and in accordance with their previous filings. 

While Alabama states that nitrogen hypoxia is the most “humane” form of execution devised in the present day, others view this as a violation of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. 

According to The Guardian, several eyewitnesses claim it was the most “horrific” thing they have ever experienced. According to Marty Roney of the Montgomery Advertiser, “Smith writhed and convulsed on the gurney. He took deep breaths, his body shaking violently with his eyes rolling in the back of his head.” 

Smith’s spiritual advisor, Reverend Jeff Hood, was at Smith’s side for the execution, stating that the prison officials were “surprised” by how graphic the execution was. 

“What we saw was minutes of someone struggling for their life,” Hood said, according to The Guardian.

The White House has also claimed the execution is “very troubling,” according to the Washington Post, noting that President Joe Biden has deep concerns with the implementation of the death penalty in Alabama. 

According to NBC, while the state of Alabama claims this was the most successful execution to date, the state expects prolonged litigation concerning this method of execution in the future.


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