This Thursday, Alabama will carry out the first execution with nitrogen gas in the United States, after receiving the green light from the Supreme Court on Wednesday, amid international criticism. The method consists of putting on a mask that will replace oxygen with nitrogen gas, in theory causing death in a few minutes.
Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, sentenced to death for a murder committed in 1988, launched a legal battle to prevent his execution with this never-before-tested method, alleging that he is being treated like a guinea pig. The high court, however, refused to admit the challenge of Smith, who must be executed on Thursday after 6:00 p.m. local time (1:00 a.m. on Friday in Spain). An attempt was made to execute him in November 2022 with lethal injection, but the executioner was unable to introduce intravenous lines.
“It could be extremely painful”
As the date approaches, international voices have been increasing calling on US authorities to intervene before it is too late. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, said she was “seriously concerned” about the new method and called on the state of Alabama “to stop the execution” and “refrain from carrying out other executions of this type.” ”.
Amnesty International, for its part, warned that “this new untested method could be extremely painful” for the prisoner, “thus violating international human rights treaties that the United States has ratified.”
Mario Marazziti, co-founder of the World Coalition against the Death Penalty, has denounced that it is a method that is used “to kill pigs” and that it causes great suffering to the prisoner: “Veterinarians do not want this method to be used to kill animals.” “, has declared.
The state of Alabama, which has been working for years on a protocol to kill with this new nitrogen asphyxiation technique, has defended in court that it is “the most painless and humane method of execution known to man.”
The inmates will be put on a mask that will replace oxygen with nitrogen gas, in theory causing death in a few minutes. But that argument does not convince Smith’s defense, who after a federal judge gave the green light to the execution last week, filed appeals before the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals and before the Supreme Court alleging that his client is a guinea pig. .
Unlike the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals has not yet ruled. In cases of executions, it is common for magistrates not to rule one way or another until the last minute or even after the scheduled time of execution.
Alabama is the first state to develop an alternative to lethal injections – the majority method in recent decades – given the difficulty that has arisen in recent years in acquiring the drugs due to the refusal of pharmaceutical companies to allow them to be used for this purpose.
In addition, complications that have arisen in several executions – some in Alabama – have led to the method being questioned as inhumane and the subject of legal disputes for years.
Currently, only three of the 27 states that maintain the death penalty – Oklahoma, Mississippi and Alabama – allow the use of nitrogen gas for executions.
An attempt was made to execute him in 2022
Smith is on death row for having murdered a woman, Elizabeth Sennett, in 1988, at the request of her husband, Charles Sennett, who was trying to collect compensation. Smith and an accomplice, John Forrest Parker, received $1,000 each.
Sennett committed suicide a week after the murder, when he realized that authorities considered him a suspect, while Parker was also sentenced to death and was executed in 2010 by lethal injection.
Alabama attempted to execute Smith in November 2022, but the executioner was unable to insert IVs. As part of a subsequent agreement, Alabama pledged not to again attempt to kill Smith with lethal injection.
His defense maintains that his right not to suffer cruel punishment, enshrined in the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, has been violated.