UN Experts Call to Stop Alabama Inmate's Execution

Independent monitors with group are 'alarmed' nitrogen gas will be used to execute Kenneth Smith
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 9, 2023 2:36 PM CST
Updated Jan 4, 2024 9:44 AM CST
State Sets Date for First US Execution by Nitrogen Gas
Kenneth Eugene Smith.   (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP)
UPDATE Jan 4, 2024 9:44 AM CST

An Alabama inmate's scheduled execution by nitrogen gas later this month, which would be the first-ever execution by this method in the US, is now receiving pushback from the United Nations. The Guardian reports that four independent UN monitors have issued a joint statement on the plan for Jan. 25, which is when convicted murderer Kenneth Smith, 58, is set to undergo the untested capital-punishment technique. The experts say they're "alarmed" over the use of nitrogen gas and are calling for Alabama and the US government to halt the execution. "We are concerned that nitrogen hypoxia would result in a painful and humiliating death," the experts say, noting that such an "experimental" execution "will likely violate the prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment," per a release. Smith has already undergone one botched execution, via lethal injection, in late 2022.

Nov 9, 2023 2:36 PM CST

A year after the execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith by lethal injection was called off after the execution team had trouble connecting an IV line, Alabama has set a date to execute him by a different method. Gov. Kay Ivey's office says the state plans to execute Smith with nitrogen gas on January 25 or 26, CNN reports. If the execution proceeds, Smith will be the first person in the US executed by nitrogen gas, a method cleared by the state's top court earlier this month. The method has also been authorized in Oklahoma and Mississippi, but neither state has used it, per the AP. Smith was one of two men sentenced to death for the 1988 murder-for-hire killing of a pastor's wife. The other man was executed in 2010.

In a 1996 retrial, the jury voted 11-1 to impose a life sentence but was overruled by the judge. "Like the 11 jurors who did not believe Mr. Smith should be executed, we remain hopeful that those who review this case will see that a second attempt to execute Mr. Smith—this time with an experimental, never-before-used method and with a protocol that has never been fully disclosed to him or his counsel—is unwarranted and unjust," Smith attorney Robert Grass said in a statement. The execution will involve replacing having Smith breathe pure nitrogen instead of oxygen, causing a death that advocates say will be painless, though Scientific American notes there has been little research on death by nitrogen gas. (More execution stories.)

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