Home NewsAmerica US state conducts ‘cruel’ nitrogen execution

US state conducts ‘cruel’ nitrogen execution

by Zahid Jadwat

Smith’s lawyers described it as a cruel execution.[Picture: AP]


In a first for the United States – and possibly the world – a prison facility in Alabama has executed a man by nitrogen gas. Kenneth Eugene Smith was the first victim of the novel method when he was put down on Thursday.

After losing several appeals in the courts of his country, fifty-eight-year old Smith, a convicted murderer, had a mask placed over his face at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama. It was all over in approximately 25 minutes.

Witnesses reported his final words, muffled due to the mask, as: “Tonight Alabama causes humanity to take a step backwards … Thank you for supporting me. Love all of you”.

The execution was scheduled to take place at 6pm local time. It was delayed by nearly two hours as Smith and his family awaited a decision by the US Supreme Court on his final appeal. His lawyers had argued the untested method was a cruel and unusual punishment.


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This was not the first attempt by Alabama authorities to execute Smith. A previous attempt, in 2022, failed when staff were unable to find the vein through which to pump lethal medication.

His case dates back to 1989, when he was convicted of the 1988 murder-for-hire of a pastor’s wife, Elizabeth Sennett. It was alleged that he and another man were each rewarded with $1 000 to kill her by Charles Sennett. The husband, a minister in the Church of Christ, later took his own life after police caught scent of his plot.

The state claimed that the new nitrogen gas method was “perhaps the most humane method of execution ever devised”. But a report by Marty Roney of the Montgomery Advertiser, who was present, deemed otherwise.

“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,” he wrote.

Execution of death row inmates is a practice that is still alive and well in the United States. Since the 1970s, 1 583 Americans have been executed, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre.

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