Alabama’s Planned Nitrogen Execution Subject of Continued Controversy

( – A US District Judge on Wednesday ruled that Alabama would be allowed to execute a death row inmate using nitrogen gas, clearing the way for the country’s first execution by the new method, the Associated Press reported.

In November, Governor Kay Ivey announced that inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith’s execution by nitrogen hypoxia would be carried out on January 25. Attorneys for Smith sought a preliminary injunction to stop his execution, claiming that Alabama was using the convicted murderer as a “test subject” in a “cruel” and “experimental” method of execution.

But on January 10, US District Judge R. Austin Huffaker rejected the request for an injunction, clearing the way for the execution to proceed.

Robert Grass, a lawyer for the inmate, said he would appeal the decision.

Earlier this month, a group of experts from the UN Human Rights Council’s special procedures program released a statement urging the US federal government and Alabama officials to review the state’s execution protocols.

The experts argued that the use of nitrogen in executions is untested and may “result in a painful and humiliating death.” They asserted that there was no scientific proof that inhaling nitrogen would not cause “grave suffering.”

The air humans breathe is made up of 78 percent nitrogen. The gas is harmless when inhaled with oxygen.

Under the nitrogen method of execution, the inmate inhales 100 percent nitrogen, depriving him of oxygen and causing hypoxia, leading to asphyxiation and death.

Following Wednesday’s court decision, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said the ruling brings the state one step closer to holding Smith “accountable” for his role in the 1988 murder-for-hire.

Smith, along with Joseph Forrest Parker, murdered Elizabeth Sennett in 1988 after receiving $1,000 each from her husband, Reverand Charles Sennett. Sennett planned to use his wife’s life insurance to pay off his debts. However, one week after Elizabeth’s murder, Sennett committed suicide.

Parker was also convicted and sentenced to death, and he was executed by lethal injection in 2010.

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