Alabama judge approves experimental execution method, says inmate ‘not guaranteed a painless death’

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An Alabama judge has determined that Kenneth Eugene Smith — a convicted murderer — will be the first human to face death by nitrogen hypoxia later this month, according to Fox News Digital.

Smith’s legal team tried to stop the process, but they were unsuccessful. Smith was sentenced to death in 2022 for the 1998 killing of a preacher’s wife. The preacher, Pastor Charles Sennett Sr., hired Smith and John Forrest Parker to murder his wife. The two men carried out the killing after being promised $1,000 a piece from Sennett.

This is not the first time Smith has faced the death penalty. In 2022, the state attempted to lethally inject Smith, but the operation was bungled. The report noted that Smith’s attorneys said in legal filings that putting him back into the state’s execution chamber would constitute double jeopardy, and that to test out the new form of execution would violate his constitutional rights.

However, U.S. District Court Judge R. Austin Huffaker rejected the request. He dismissed the argument that nitrogen hypoxia was new, going on to say that lethal injection was also nice at one time.

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Even though Smith’s attorneys tried to communicate the theoretical risks of the new method, the judge determined that those risks did not present an unconstitutional violation.

Huffaker went on to say that “Smith is not guaranteed a painless death,” adding that “[o]n this record, Smith has not shown, and the court cannot conclude, the Protocol inflicts both cruel and unusual punishment, rendering it constitutionally infirm under the prevailing legal framework.”

NBC News reported that Alabama’s new method of execution would include placing a respirator-type face mask over Smith’s nose and mouth, replacing oxygen with nitrogen, causing him to suffocate to death. Alabama is just one of three states — Mississippi and Oklahoma being the other two — that have made the execution method legal.

Huffaker added that there was no evidence to suggest that death by nitrogen hypoxia “is substantially likely to cause Smith superadded pain short of death or a prolonged death.”

Smith’s attorneys also noted that the gas mask would interfere with Smith being able to pray aloud or make a final statement before the execution is carried out. However, the Alabama attorney general’s office said these concerns are speculative.

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