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Supreme Court Denies Appeal From Alabama Death Row Inmate Facing Untried Nitrogen Execution for Killing Pastor’s Wife

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By Ralph Chapoco, Alabama Reflector, January 24, 2024

The U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday refused to hear an appeal from an Alabama death row inmate facing an untried method of execution.

The nation’s high court denied Kenneth Eugene Smith’s appeal without comment on Wednesday. Smith, convicted of the 1988 murder-for-hire of Elizabeth Sennett, faces execution by nitrogen suffocation on Thursday.

The state attempted to execute Smith by lethal injection in November 2022, but called it off after staff were unable to establish a connection with a vein. Attorneys for Smith argued that a second attempted execution would violate his Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment. The Alabama Supreme Court previously rejected the argument.

Under state protocol, Department of Corrections staff will place a mask on Smith’s face and expose him to nitrogen gas for 15 minutes or until an EKG shows him flatlining. Smith’s attorneys argue the mask will not be tightly fitted and could allow oxygen into the mask, which would prolong his death.

He also claims that the low oxygen environment may cause him to vomit, which would then lengthen the amount of time until he becomes unconscious and eventually dies, which would violate his Eighth Amendment constitutional protections. Smith also claims that the protocol violates his right to practice his religion because it would make it difficult for him to pray.

Attorneys for the state argued last week that the mask used for the execution “has a one-way valve” and would prevent air in the room from flowing into the mask, addressing the issues of prolonged unconsciousness and death.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision in the district court, saying that Smith was unlikely to win on the merits of his case. There may be an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, that is Smith’s final chance to halt his execution.

Editor’s note: This article was republished from the Alabama Reflector under a Creative Commons license.

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Faithfully Magazine is a fresh, bold and exciting news and culture publication that covers issues, conversations and events impacting Christian communities of color.


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