Judge Gives All Clear To Controversial Execution

A federal court cleared the way for Alabama to execute a prisoner later this month using nitrogen gas, which would be the first execution in the US using this novel technique. The inmate’s attorneys have criticized the execution as harsh and experimental, but the judge’s ruling allows the execution to proceed.

Smith’s attorneys sought an injunction to halt his nitrogen hypoxia execution on January 25, but U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker denied their plea. The judgment is anticipated to be appealed, saying that the state is attempting to use Smith as a “test subject” for an unproven execution procedure.

According to the state’s intentions, Smith will be put to death from hypoxia by having a respirator-type face mask placed over his nose and mouth, which will replace oxygen with nitrogen. No state has tried to employ nitrogen hypoxia as of yet, even though it is legal as an execution technique in three states (Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Alabama).

The 1988 murder-for-hire of a preacher’s wife devastated a little north Alabama village, and Smith, now 58 years old, was one of two men found guilty of the crime. Smith, according to the prosecution, and the other guy were each given $1,000 to assassinate Elizabeth Sennett so that her husband, who was severely indebted and sought to collect on insurance, could get out of his financial jam.

The Alabama Department of Corrections attempted to inject Smith with a deadly dose in 2022, but the plan was scrapped because officials were unable to establish the two intravenous lines needed to carry out the execution. Smith had already survived the state’s previous attempt at capital punishment.

After a court hearing in December and legal files, the judge approved the nitrogen execution plan. Smith’s and Alabama’s lawyers had different assessments of the dangers and compassion of nitrogen gas as a means of death.