The first nitrogen gas execution will be carried out on Kenneth Eugene Smith in Alabama: what to know


Montgomery, Ala. (AP) – Alabama is preparing to use a new method of execution: nitrogen gas.

Kenneth Eugene Smith, who survived the state’s previous attempt to carry out the death penalty by lethal injection in 2022, will be executed by nitrogen hypoxia on Thursday. If implemented, it would be the first new method of execution since the introduction of lethal injection in 1982.

The state says nitrogen gas will cause instant unconsciousness but critics have compared the never-used execution method to human experimentation.

What is nitrogen hypoxia?

Nitrogen hypoxia execution would force the prisoner to breathe pure nitrogen, depriving him of the oxygen needed to maintain bodily functions.

Has it ever been used?

No state has used nitrogen hypoxia for capital punishment. In 2018, Alabama became third state – Together oklahoma and Mississippi – to authorize the use of nitrogen gas to execute prisoners.

Some states are looking for new ways to execute prisoners as the drugs used in lethal injections, the most common execution method in the United States, are becoming harder to find.

How is it supposed to work?

Nitrogen, a colourless, odorless gas, makes up 78% of the air inhaled by humans and is harmless when breathed with appropriate levels of oxygen.

The theory behind nitrogen hypoxia is that changing the composition of the air to 100% nitrogen would cause Smith to lose consciousness and then die from lack of oxygen.

Most of what is recorded in medical journals about deaths caused by nitrogen exposure comes from industrial accidents – where nitrogen leaks or mix-ups have taken the lives of workers – and suicide attempts.

What is the state planning to do?

After Smith was strapped to the gurney in the execution chamber, the state said in a petition filed with the court that he would don a “NIOSH-approved Type-C Full Facepiece Supply Air Respirator” – a type of mask typically used in industrial settings to provide life support. Is used in. -Conservation of oxygen- on Smith’s face.

The warden would then read the death warrant and ask Smith if he had any last words before activating the “nitrogen hypoxia system” from the other room. Nitrogen gas will be administered for at least 15 minutes or “five minutes after the flatline sign on the EKG, whichever is longer.” As per state protocol,

The state heavily modified sections of the protocol related to storage and testing of the gas system.

The Alabama Attorney General’s office told a federal judge that nitrogen gas “will cause unconsciousness within seconds, and cause death within minutes.”

What are the criticisms?

Smith’s lawyers say the state wants to make him a “test subject” for a novel execution method.

They have argued that the mask the state plans to use is not air tight and leaking oxygen would allow him to hang for a longer period of time, potentially leaving him in a vegetative state rather than killing him. A doctor testified on Smith’s behalf that the low-oxygen environment could cause nausea, which could lead to Smith dying from suffocation in his own vomit.

Earlier this month experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council warned that, in their view, the execution method would violate the prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.

The American Veterinary Medical Association wrote in 2020 euthanasia guidelines Nitrogen hypoxia may be an acceptable method of euthanasia under certain conditions for pigs, but not for other mammals because it creates an “anoxic environment that is endangered for some species.”

Is it the same as a gas chamber?

no way. Some states had previously used hydrogen cyanide gas, a lethal gas, for executions. The last prisoner to be executed in an American gas chamber was Walter LaGrand, the second of two German brothers to be executed for the murder of a bank manager in southern Arizona in 1982. It took 18 minutes for Lagrand to die in 1999.

Who is the prisoner?

Smith was one of two men convicted of the murder-for-hire murder of a preacher’s wife in 1988. Prosecutors said Smith and another man were paid $1,000 to kill Elizabeth Sennett on behalf of her husband, who was deeply in debt and wanted to collect the insurance money.

Alabama attempted to execute Smith by lethal injection in 2022. He was strapped to a gurney in the execution chamber being prepared for lethal injection, but the state has been closed The fatal injection was administered when members of the execution team were having difficulty connecting the second of two required intravenous lines to Smith’s vein. According to his lawyers, Smith was left chained for approximately four hours as he waited to see whether the execution would proceed.

Are there any legal challenges?

The question of whether the execution can proceed will end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday heard arguments in Smith Request to stop execution, After the court rules, either party can appeal.

Smith has argued that the state’s proposed procedures violate the ban on cruel and unusual punishment. He has also argued that Alabama violated his due process rights by scheduling the execution while he has pending appeals and that face masks would interfere with his ability to pray.

In a separate case, Smith is arguing that it would violate the constitutional ban on state use of cruel and unusual punishment. second attempt to hang him After that he had already survived an execution attempt. Smith’s lawyers asked Friday for a stay of execution while the U.S. Supreme Court considers that question.

What’s potentially at stake?

Lethal injection is the most commonly used execution method in the United States, but states that impose the death penalty have sometimes struggled to obtain the necessary drugs or Other problems encountered In connecting intravenous lines.

If Alabama’s execution moves forward, other states may want to begin using nitrogen gas.

If the execution is blocked or thwarted by a court, it could halt or slow the exploration of nitrogen gas as an alternative execution method.


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