First Nitrogen Gas Execution in Alabama

On January 26, 2024, Kenneth Smith became the first American to be executed by nitrogen gas. For the first time in history, Alabama chose a method to use nitrogen gas for the execution. According to officials, he died from nitrogen hypoxia at 8:25 p.m. Nitrogen hypoxia occurs when enough nitrogen gas is breathed into the body to deprive it of oxygen, which is done purposely as a type of execution. His execution should have taken place in 2022, but it failed. His death took 22 minutes and he struggled with pain for 2 minutes. It was far more than anyone had anticipated. 

A minister named Charles was having an affair and agreed to pay Smith $1,000 to kill his wife and make it look like she died in burglary for the insurance money. Smith was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Sennett, Charles’s wife in 1988, according to court records. 

Approximately 100 people gathered and protested in front of the Alabama State Capitol Building urging for the annulment of the plan to execute Smith with nitrogen gas three days before the execution on January 23. Smith’s lawyer and other critics also called it cruel and experimental. Further, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, “Having failed to kill Smith on its first attempt, Alabama has selected him as its ‘guinea pig’ to test a method of execution never attempted before”. However, the law enforcement authorities insisted that it was a humane method of execution and has proven effective. Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahoma are the only three states to have accepted this method for the execution. Despite these controversies, 43 other prisoners on death row have selected nitrogen hypoxia as their method of execution. Therefore, this method of execution is assumed to proceed.

By. Minkyu Jung