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Death Row Inmate Set To Become First To Be Executed By Controversial New Method

Death row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, is set to become the first prisoner to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia.
Credit: Alabama Department of Corrections & Alamy

Alabama plans to become the first state to execute a death row inmate by a controversial new method. 

Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, was convicted of a m**der-for-hire case in 1988 involving the killing of a preacher’s wife named Elizabeth Sennett.

He was one of two men paid to kill the woman on behalf of her husband, who was in debt and wanted to collect the life insurance money.

While the other man convicted in the slaying, John Forrest Parker, was executed in 2010, Smith remains on death row.

Smith’s previous execution attempt by lethal injection was reportedly called off because the death row personnel was unable to insert an IV into his veins.

And he is now set to become the first prisoner to die by nitrogen hypoxia.

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The method forces a person to breathe only nitrogen, depriving them of oxygen – resulting in them passing out and dying, in theory.

The chemical element makes up 78 per cent of the air inhaled by humans but is harmless when inhaled with oxygen.

Death by nitrogen hypoxia is an execution method that is authorised in three states, however, it has never been used.

Reportedly, it was introduced due to a shortage of drugs used to carry out lethal injections.

Elizabeth Sennett
Kenneth Eugene was one of two men convicted in the murder-for-hire case of Elizabeth Sennett. Credit: Find A Grave

The execution method was authorised in Alabama in 2018 but the state has not yet attempted to use it to carry out a death sentence.

It is highly controversial as while some argue it is painless, others have likened it to human experimentation.

Despite this, it has been reported that Smith would prefer to die by nitrogen to a lethal injection, as per CBS News.

Legal advocacy group, the Equal Injustice Initiative, works on death penalty issues and has reportedly argued that Alabama has a history of ‘failed and flawed executions and execution attempts’ and ‘experimenting with a never before used method is a terrible idea’, as per MailOnline.

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While Joel Zivot, an associate professor at the Department of Anesthesiology at Emory University School of Medicine, tells The Mirror that he also has concerns.

He says that although the US Constitution prohibits cruel punishment, he has seen ‘no commentary’ on how this new method will ‘lack cruelty’.

Zivot also warns that it would be ‘potentially dangerous to anyone observing the execution or assisting in the execution’ as nitrogen gas is colourless and odourless.

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Written by Aimee Walker

Aimee is a senior content editor at IGV who specialises in finding the best original stories, trending topics and entertainment news. She graduated from Birmingham City University with a degree in Media and Communications.