Supreme Court Declines to Halt Execution of Alabama Inmate Using Controversial Nitrogen Gas Method

The US Supreme Court has refused to intervene in the execution of Alabama death row inmate Kenneth Smith, who is set to be put to death this week using a controversial method involving nitrogen gas. The court’s decision comes amidst concerns raised by experts and critics about the secrecy surrounding this execution method and the potential for excessive pain or torture.

Smith, convicted for his involvement in a 1988 murder for hire, is scheduled to be executed within a 30-hour window starting Thursday. Alabama officials initially faced difficulties in setting an intravenous line before the execution warrant expired, leading to a request from Smith and his attorneys to pause the execution. They argued that the use of nitrogen gas would constitute cruel and unusual punishment, violating constitutional amendments.

The Supreme Court, however, declined Smith’s requests without providing an explanation. While litigation continues, Alabama remains the only state, alongside Oklahoma and Mississippi, to have outlined a protocol for nitrogen hypoxia, a method that has never been used before. The state plans to administer the nitrogen gas to Smith through a mask.

Smith’s attorneys filed another request for a stay of execution in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, citing concerns about changes made to Smith’s last meal schedule. They argued that evidence of Smith repeatedly vomiting raised the risk of a tortuous death if he were to choke on his vomit while wearing the mask. The state countered by stating that Smith’s self-reporting largely contributed to the evidence and that the last meal schedule was altered to address his concerns.

During a previous attempt to execute Smith, officials reportedly caused him severe physical pain and psychological torment by repeatedly jabbing his arms and hands in an effort to access his veins. His lawyers argue that this treatment, along with the planned use of nitrogen gas, would make Smith’s execution only the second in US history where a state attempts to execute an inmate a second time after initially failing.

While Alabama defends the use of nitrogen hypoxia as a humane method of execution, critics, including human rights organizations, have expressed alarm. They argue that this method could result in a painful and humiliating death, potentially amounting to torture or other cruel treatment. Dr. Joel Zivot, an associate professor of anesthesiology and surgery at Emory University, questions whether nitrogen gas would meet the constitutional requirement of being neither cruel nor torture.

Smith’s conviction stems from his involvement in the murder for hire of Elizabeth Sennett in 1988. Court records indicate that Charles Sennett, Elizabeth’s husband and a minister, hired individuals, including Smith, to kill his wife and stage it as a burglary. Charles Sennett, who was having an affair and had taken out an insurance policy on his wife, later took his own life as investigators focused on him. Smith was apprehended after investigators discovered the Sennetts’ VCR in his possession.

As the scheduled execution approaches, the fate of Kenneth Smith hangs in the balance, with legal battles and concerns over the use of nitrogen gas continuing to surround this high-profile case.


Author: CrimeDoor

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