Alabama could become the first state to use nitrogen hypoxia as a method of execution.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall has asked the state’s Supreme Court to schedule an execution date for Kenneth Eugene Smith.
The AG’s office has indicated it will have Smith breathe pure nitrogen, eventually depriving him of oxygen and killing him.
This method of execution has never been used before in the United States, though death by nitrogen hypoxia is permitted in two other states — Oklahoma and Mississippi. Alabama approved nitrogen hypoxia in 2018 amid a shortage of the drugs used during a lethal injection.
Proponents argue that it does not cause pain. Opponents have equated the new method of execution to human experimentation.
“No state in the country has executed a person using nitrogen hypoxia and Alabama is in no position to experiment with a completely unproven and unused method for executing someone,” said Angie Setzer, a senior attorney with the Equal Justice Initiative, per NBC News.
Smith was sentenced to death for the 1988 murder of Elizabeth Sennett.
According to Fox 8, Smith was one of two men Sennett’s husband hired to kill her. She was found in her home on March 18, 1988, stabbed and beaten with a fireplace implement.
Reverend Charles Sennett was in debt and hoped to collect insurance money. He paid Smith and the other man each $1,000 and killed himself before charges could be brought against him.
“Smith ultimately confessed to his role, along with John Forrest Parker and a third man who had arranged it,” reports AL.com. “At his first trial the jury voted to sentence Smith to death. At a second trial the jury voted 11-1 to recommend life without parole but the judge overrode it and sentenced him to death.”
Parker was executed in 2010.
“When asked if he had any final words, he turned his head to face Elizabeth’s two sons and said, ‘I’m sorry. I don’t ever expect you to forgive me. I really am sorry,’” reported The New York Post.
Alabama ultimately called off Smith’s Nov. 17, 2022, execution by lethal injection after a problem inserting an IV into his veins. The issue came after the United States Supreme Court reversed a decision from the 11th Circuit Court permitting Smith to die by nitrogen hypoxia.
His failed execution prompted Governor Kay Ivey to enact a moratorium on execution, which was lifted after three months.
“It is a travesty that Kenneth Smith has been able to avoid his death sentence for nearly 35 years after being convicted of the heinous murder-for-hire slaying of an innocent woman, Elizabeth Sennett,” said AG MArshall, per WAFF.