On January 24th, the Supreme Court ruled not to block Alabama from putting a convicted murderer to death with nitrogen gas. For Kenneth Smith, this would be his second time facing execution. Back in November 2022, the state failed to execute him for his role in a 1988 murder-for-hire case.
According to statements from Smith and his lawyer, on the day he was set to die, he was strapped to an execution table in a crucifixion position and left for hours. With no contact with his legal time, he was unaware of the progress on getting a stay for his execution. The stay of execution was granted around 7:59 pm, well in advance of his deadline. Records indicate the jail responded that it was “noted” but failed to inform the execution team or Smith himself.
At various points along the way, Smith alleges he complained about the positioning for such a length of time and being poked and prodded with needles unnecessarily. During one of these jabs, it is alleged he was injected with some unknown sedative. While there, he was poked in the arms, hands, and collarbone with various needles. When poked repeatedly in the arm muscle, he attempted to convey his displeasure to the guard but was told the guard wasn’t hurting him.
Nearing midnight, Smith was finally told he was done for the day, and the regular guards were coming to pick him back up. When they arrived, Smith was reported to be trembling, sweating, hyperventilating, dizzy, and unable to raise his arms for cuffing or move his legs to walk.
In his lawyer’s request to have a stay granted, they wrote, “Having tried and failed to execute Mr. Smith by lethal injection on November 17, 2022, the State now intends to use nitrogen hypoxia—a method of execution never before attempted by any state or the federal government—pursuant to a protocol that has never been tested.”
Continuing, they added, “His petition does not ask this Court to rule on the constitutionality of nitrogen hypoxia as a method of executing condemned people. Mr. Smith’s petition asks this Court to consider whether the Eighth Amendment prohibits another attempt to execute him by any method after ADOC’s previous cruelly willful attempt; the availability of nitrogen hypoxia, lethal injection, or any other method is not relevant to that issue.”
As the state tells it, the nitrogen hypoxia method is a much smoother and ultimately the most humane way we currently have for execution. The way they tell the story of his last attempt, Smith wasn’t harmed at all, rather he was simply fitted for an IV for his execution. Given the eight stab wounds to the chest and two stabs to the neck their victim Elizabeth Sennett received, Alabama authorities argue he’s getting off easy.
Just looking at this on the surface, this is the kind of execution we should be seeing more of in the future. Simply securing an air mask to his face like a dentist or fighter pilot might, Smith will simply breathe in normally, and pass out within seconds. Minutes later he will die from the nitrogen. Given the number of people around the globe who huff nitrogen for their kicks, this could easily be the most direct way to execute someone.
For what it’s worth, Smith’s team is objecting because this will be psychologically torturous to him, and they claim it is unknown if it will work as suggested. Given experiments done in the UK surrounding the use of nitrogen in the air for pilots, they have ample basis for the execution to proceed successfully. If all else fails, they can do what addicts do; keep pumping him with nitrogen till he expires.
Then again, he could always reprise a role as Paul Walker’s Mitsubishi Eclipse in Fast and The Furious and go ka-boom in a blaze of blue glory. If so, someone better yell “NOS!!!” in advance.