Alabama intends to adopt a novel execution approach in its gas chamber, but the United Nations has taken a stance on the matter. Global authorities are denouncing the state’s plans, deeming the proposed execution method as “inhuman.”
Over the past few years, U.S. states employing lethal injection for capital punishment have encountered an issue: pharmaceutical companies are declining to supply them with the usual chemicals for humane execution. Despite this resistance, states have not yielded to the boycott. Instead, they have sought alternative methods to carry out the ultimate penalty.
Alabama has chosen to experiment with nitrogen gas as an alternative, aiming for a painless asphyxiation of the condemned individual. Scheduled for January 25, convicted murderer Kenneth Eugene Smith, responsible for the 1988 contract killing of Elizabeth Sennett, has been on death row since 1996.
In 2022, the state’s attempt to execute him through lethal injection failed due to difficulties in establishing the necessary intravenous lines. Subsequently, Smith himself proposed nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative method, and on January 3, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) granted his request, establishing the execution date.
Nitrogen, a non-toxic gas constituting more than three-quarters of the air we inhale, lacks the ability to sustain life. According to the suggested execution procedure, the condemned individual would receive pure nitrogen through a mask. Deprived of oxygen, they would subsequently lose consciousness and succumb to death.
As of now, no one has undergone execution through nitrogen hypoxia, but Oklahoma and Mississippi, in addition to Alabama, have sanctioned it as a method of death. The United Nations has intervened, as a panel of experts released a public statement. Four UN special rapporteurs assert that there is no evidence indicating that nitrogen hypoxia does not inflict severe suffering.
The press release from the UN urges both “Federal and State authorities” to suspend Smith’s execution and conduct a thorough review of the chosen execution method. Simultaneously, Smith’s legal team is making efforts to prevent the imposition of the death penalty. Governor Ivey has explicitly stated that she has no intentions of granting clemency to the convicted murderer.