First Nitrogen Gas Execution: ‘Thrashing’ Aside, the Procedure Goes Off Without a Hitch

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According to Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, the first execution by nitrogen gas in the United States was “textbook”.

The efficiency of the execution may not be disputed by eyewitnesses. It was a horrifying spectacle.

I support capital punishment, as long as the penalty can be administered equally. This is not about black/white inequity. Kenneth Eugene Smith was a white inmate from Alabama who was gassed with nitrogen. Green is the most important color when it comes to capital punishment. I do not believe that a person’s fate should be determined by whether or not they can afford to hire a top lawyer.

There’s no reason why they shouldn’t announce the death penalty if it’s meant to deter.

Kenneth Smith, convicted of a murder-for-hire scheme, was found guilty on March 18, 1989, when he murdered Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett (45), the wife of Reverend Charles Sennett. Sennett hired Billy Gray Williams to commit the murder. Williams hired Smith, along with another man, to complete the crime. Smith stabbed and beat Mrs. Sennett until she died.

Smith’s execution by nitrogen hypoxia was not the first time the state tried to kill him. The state approved the execution of Smith via lethal injection on November 17, 2022. The attendants who weren’t doctors couldn’t find the vein to insert a needle.

This led to a 14-month delay. The execution was finally set for Saturday evening. Smith was on death row for over 30 years. His execution was a non-event.

The prison warden entered, read out the death warrant stating the date of Smith’s execution, and then held up a microphone to allow Smith to say any final words.

Smith began by saying, “Tonight Alabama is causing humanity to go backwards.” He used his fingers to make an “I Love You” sign for family members present. “I’m going with love, light, and peace. “Love you all.”

The Sennett family sat in a separate room from that of the members of the press and Smith’s lawyer.

It was difficult to watch the actual execution.

Smith began shaking violently and writhing in thrashing, seizure-like spasms at around 7:58 pm. At least one time, the gurney moved visibly due to his movements. Smith’s hands pulled on the straps that held him to the gurney. He lifted his gurney’s head and fell back.

The shaking lasted at least two full minutes. Hood made the sign “cross” repeatedly toward Smith. Smith’s wife, watching him, began to cry out.

Smith started to take several deep breaths. His chest rose noticeably. At around 8:08 pm, his breathing had stopped being visible. The corrections officer, who had previously checked the mask, walked up to Smith and took a look at him.

Smith was unconscious when he started thrashing about and moving. He “felt” anything. Was he unconscious? Kenneth Smith and God are the only ones who can tell for sure.

There must be a better method to execute criminals. Face it: there’s no foolproof way to easily and painlessly execute someone. Life is resilient. The body, as it nears its end will struggle to remain alive.

Civil society must strive to put someone to death in a humane manner, whether it is through nitrogen hypoxia or lethal injection. Maybe nitrogen hypoxia will be the answer. As I’m certain we will discover in the future, many things could go wrong with this execution method.