Nitrogen hypoxia involves compelling the inmate to breathe pure nitrogen, thereby depriving them of oxygen and causing death to occur. As nitrogen constitutes 78% of the air we inhale and is harmless when combined with oxygen, proponents argue that this method should be painless. However, opponents liken it to human experimentation.
It is expected that Alabama's announcement regarding their readiness to proceed with nitrogen hypoxia will spark new legal battles concerning the constitutionality of this method. The Equal Justice Initiative, a legal advocacy group specializing in death penalty issues, voiced its concerns about Alabama's history of "failed and flawed executions and execution attempts." Angie Setzer, a senior attorney with the organization, called the state's experimentation with an untested and unsupported method "a terrible idea."
Last year, Alabama made an unsuccessful attempt to execute Smith by lethal injection due to difficulties in inserting an IV into his veins. This incident marked the second time within two months that the state failed to carry out an execution and the third such occurrence since 2018.
Internal Review of Lethal Injection Procedures Leads to Execution Pause in Alabama
In a recent announcement, Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama revealed that the state has temporarily halted executions to conduct an internal review of its lethal injection procedures. This decision comes in the aftermath of Kenneth Smith's postponed execution. Last month, Alabama resumed its lethal injection protocol after this brief pause.
Smith, along with another individual, was convicted of the murder-for-hire slaying of Elizabeth Sennett, a preacher's wife, in 1988. Attorney General Steve Marshall expressed his dissatisfaction with the delay in carrying out Smith's death sentence, calling it a "travesty." He emphasized the heinous nature of the crime and the lengthy evasion of justice that Smith has experienced for almost 35 years.
While Alabama has been working on developing a nitrogen hypoxia execution method, precise details about its implementation have been scarce. The attorney general's court filing did not provide specifics on the execution procedure itself. However, Corrections Commissioner John Hamm mentioned that a protocol is nearly complete during a press briefing last month.
Interestingly, several inmates in Alabama, including Smith, have sought to challenge their scheduled lethal injections by requesting nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative method. Attorney Robert Grass, representing Smith, refrained from commenting on this matter.
The murder of Elizabeth Sennett on March 18, 1988, in her home on Coon Dog Cemetery Road shocked the close-knit community in northern Alabama. Prosecutors alleged that Smith was one of two men hired for $1,000 each to kill Sennett on behalf of her husband. Her husband, Charles Sennett, a Church of Christ pastor, tragically took his own life when investigators began focusing on him as a potential suspect.
The repercussions of this slaying and the subsequent uncovering of those responsible continue to reverberate within the small Alabama community.