Supreme Court Sides With Alabama Death Row Inmate

Says Kenneth Smith should be put to death by nitrogen hypoxia
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 16, 2023 2:00 AM CDT
SCOTUS Sides With Alabama Death Row Inmate
This undated photo provided by Alabama Department of Corrections shows inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was convicted in a 1988 murder-for-hire slaying of a preacher’s wife.   (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP)

The US Supreme Court on Monday sided with an Alabama death row inmate, who had his lethal injection called off at the last minute in November, and argues he should be put to death by nitrogen hypoxia when he is ultimately executed, the AP reports. Justices without comment rejected the Alabama attorney general's request to review an 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals decision regarding inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith. The state argued the decision disregarded Supreme Court precedent that an inmate challenging an execution method must show that an alternative method is readily available, not just feasible.

Alabama has authorized nitrogen hypoxia—death as a result of breathing pure nitrogen—as an execution method but no state has attempted to use the untested method to put an inmate to death. Smith was scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection on Nov. 17, 2022, for the 1988 murder-for-hire slaying of a preacher's wife. On the day of the execution, a divided 11th Circuit panel stayed the execution after Smith raised concerns about previous lethal injections in the state and suggested nitrogen hypoxia as an available alternative method. The Supreme Court disagreed and lifted the stay. However, prison officials ended up calling off Smith’s execution for the night after staff were unable to find a suitable vein to connect the second of two intravenous lines to Smith's body.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey in November announced a pause in executions to conduct an internal review of procedures. The review came after problems with intravenous lines caused multiple executions to be canceled or delayed. The state is seeking to resume executions this summer. Smith has an ongoing lawsuit seeking to prevent the state from making a second attempt to execute him by lethal injection. “To subject Mr. Smith to a second execution by lethal injection would subject him to a torturous experience of unnecessary physical and psychological pain, as has been established through Alabama’s last three execution attempts," Smith's lawyers wrote in a December court filing. (More Alabama stories.)

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