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Controversial Death Row execution method to be used for the first time on inmate next week
Featured Image Credit: Alabama Department of Corrections / Charles O’Rear/Getty Images

Controversial Death Row execution method to be used for the first time on inmate next week

Kenneth Smith will be the first person to test out a new execution method next week

A controversial new Death Row execution method that has never been tried before is set to be used on an inmate next week.

And the announcement of the new method has ruffled more than a few feathers, with many claiming it is 'inhumane' and even 'unacceptable for most small mammals'.

Kenneth Smith was convicted of capital murder in 1989 and was given the death penalty. Due to the number of his crimes, he was also sentenced again whilst incarcerated in 1996.

In 1988, the criminal was hired as a hit man by pastor of the Westside Church of Christ, Charles Sennett, to kill his wife so he could claim a large insurance policy pay out.

Enlisting help from a friend, Smith and John Parker agreed to be paid a mere $1,000 each to murder the pastor’s wife in Sheffield, Alabama.

Sennett’s wife, Elizabeth, was then accosted, severely beaten, bludgeoned, and stabbed numerous times with a six-inch survival blade. With over ten stab wounds to her chest and neck area, she succumbed to her injuries.

Kenneth Smith was convicted of capital murder in 1989 and was given the death penalty.
Alabama Department of Corrections

After surviving his last three executions by lethal injection - due to appeals and one instance in 2022 of a vein not being found - Smith’s death has been put on hold.

However, last year the Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall went on to file a motion so that they could use a new method on Smith.

The new execution method involves the use of nitrogen hypoxia, which is actually authorised by Alabama, Oklahoma and Mississippi - though it’s yet to be used on a human being.

The method involves the inmate breathing in nitrogen through a respirator placed their nose and mouth - killing them as a result of oxygen deprivation.

Discussing the use of this method in a December court hearing, the state attorney's general office said that the method would 'cause unconsciousness within seconds, and cause death within minutes'.

Though, veterinary scientists in the US and Europe believe that the gas 'isn’t acceptable for most small mammals other than pigs'.

The acceptance of Smith’s new execution date and the use of nitrogen hypoxia caused backlash from the UN high commissioner for human rights in Geneva, who stated that 'suffocation by nitrogen gas' is classed as torture.

The attorney who represents Smith also hit back and appealed the decision, contesting that his client would be used as the jail 'test subject'.

Smith is set to be the first inmate to die through nitrogen hypoxia.

He went on to claim to the judges at the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals on 19 January that not only was the method flawed, but that the state would try 'to execute Kenny Smith under unprecedented circumstances'.

Professor emeritus of biomedical science and ethics at the University of Birmingham in the UK, David Morton, was a part of the panel that wrote up the commission’s guidelines and went on to share his own issues with the method in an interview with The Guardian.

Morton claimed: "It is effective, but it can cause severe distress before unconsciousness and death ensue. In effect it is a suffocation method.

"It is likely also that there will be considerable species variation, and we are not sure what will happen in humans. Animal experiments are usually used as a proxy for humans, but not so in this case it seems – the ultimate test is being carried out using a human being."

A member of the European Commission panel agreed with this sentiment, stating that humans would 'process it as an emergency insult leading to acute distress'.

If allowed to go ahead, Smith will be executed on 25 January via nitrogen hypoxia.

Topics: Crime, True crime, US News, Death Row