Alabama Court Endorses Unprecedented Nitrogen Execution

( – The Alabama Supreme Court on Wednesday granted a request from the state attorney general for an execution warrant for a death row inmate whose execution will be done through the use of nitrogen gas, CBS News reported.

In a 6-2 decision, the Court granted the execution warrant for Kenneth Eugene Smith. While the order did not specify the method of execution, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall indicated in court filings that his office intended to use nitrogen gas, a method that has never been used in executions.

Alabama is one of three states, along with Mississippi and Oklahoma, to authorize nitrogen hypoxia as a method of execution. However, none of the three states has yet attempted to use it. The Alabama Supreme Court’s decision moves the state closer to becoming the first.

Kenneth Eugene Smith was one of two men convicted in the murder-for-hire killing of Elizabeth Sennett in 1988. The other man involved in the killing was executed in 2010.

In a statement on Wednesday, Attorney General Marshall said the Sennett family has had to wait “an unconscionable 35 years to see justice served.” Marshall confirmed that the Court’s decision cleared the way for Smith to face execution by nitrogen hypoxia.

Attorneys for the convicted murderer urged the state Supreme Court to reject the warrant for execution, arguing that Alabama was seeking to make Smith a “test subject” in the first attempt at using “an untested and only recently released protocol” for execution.

The air humans breathe is 78 percent nitrogen. When inhaled with oxygen, nitrogen is harmless. But under the proposed method of execution, an inmate is forced to breathe 100 percent nitrogen. The lack of oxygen leads to hypoxia and death.

Proponents of the method have argued that nitrogen hypoxia would be a painless method of death. However, opponents have compared the untested method to human experimentation.

The date of Smith’s execution will be set by Governor Kay Ivey. However, additional legal challenges over the method of execution are expected.

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