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Kenneth Smith’s nitrogen execution was ‘textbook’ and will be used again, Alabama AG says: updates

Kenneth Smith’s nitrogen execution was ‘textbook’ and will be used again, Alabama AG says: updates

Alabama death row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith has been executed by nitrogen gas – making him the first person in US history to be put to death through the controversial method.

Smith, 58, was pronounced dead at 8.25pm CT on Thursday at the William C Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama, almost three decades after he was convicted in the 1988 murder-for-hire plot of Elizabeth Sennett.

His religious adviser Reverend Jeff Hood, who witnessed the execution, told reporters what he saw was a man “struggling for their life” for a staggering 22 minutes.

The White House condemned the execution on Friday. “It is very troubling to us as an administration. It is very troubling to us here at the White House,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Alabama authorities insist the execution went to plan, despite predicting the untested method would lead to unconsciousness within seconds and death in minutes.

But, witnesses said Smith appeared conscious for several minutes, shaking and writhing on the gurney.

“We didn’t see somebody go unconscious in 30 seconds,” said Rev Hood. “What we saw was minutes of someone struggling for their life.”

Smith’s death came after the US Supreme Court denied a final, 11th-hour bid to stay of execution. The ruling received dissent from Justice Sonia Sotomayor who wrote that the state had selected Smith as a “guinea pig” by using the untested method.

Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said that 43 more death row inmates have elected to die by nitrogen hypoxia. People incarcerated on death row are able to chose their preferred method from electrocution, lethal injection or nitrogen hypoxia.

“What occurred last night was textbook,” AG Marshall said. “As of last night, nitrogen hypoxia as a means of execution is no longer an untested method. It is a proven one.”

Key Points

  • Kenneth Smith put to death using nitrogen gas in first-of-its-kind US execution

  • Pastor reveals Smith ‘struggled for life’ for 22 minutes in nitrogen gas execution

  • Kenneth Smith’s last statement before nitrogen execution

  • Alabama AG says 43 other death row inmates have elected to use nitrogen hypoxia

Supreme Court denies Kenneth Smith stay of execution request

Friday 26 January 2024 01:03 , Mike Bedigan

On Thursday evening the request for a stay of execution by Kenneth Smith’s lawyers was once again denied.

The ruling received dissent from Justice Sonia Sotomayor who wrote that the state of Alabama had selected Smith as a “guinea pig” by using the untested method of execution – suffocation by nitrogen gas.

“The world is watching. This court yet again allows Alabama to ‘experiment... with human life’,” Justice Sotomayor wrote.

Supreme Court justices dissent to denial of Smith’s application to stay execution

Friday 26 January 2024 01:44

Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson also dissented to the Supreme COurt’s denial of the application for a stay of execution for Kenneth Smith.

In the court ruling the pair, like Justice Sonia Sotomayor expressed concern at the “novel” method of execution – suffocation with nitrogen gas. “The State's protocol was developed only recently, and is even now under revision to prevent Smith from choking on his own vomit,” the wrote.

“The State has declined to provide Smith with all the discovery respecting its protocol which he has requested. And Smith has a well-documented medical condition posing special risks from the State's newly chosen method of execution.”

Kenneth Smith put to death using nitrogen gas in first-of-its-kind US execution

Friday 26 January 2024 02:37 , Mike Bedigan

Alabama Death Row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith has been executed with nitrogen gas.

It marks the first time the US has used the method to put an individual to death, and has brought the debate over capital punishment in the US back into the spotlight.

Alabama state officials said the method would be humane, but critics called it cruel and experimental.

Officials said Smith, 58, was pronounced dead at 8:25 p.m. at an Alabama prison after breathing pure nitrogen gas through a face mask to cause oxygen deprivation, according to The Associated Press.

It marked the first time that a new execution method has been used in the United States since lethal injection, now the most commonly used method, was introduced in 1982.

Alabama Governor says Smith case ‘can finally be put to rest'

Friday 26 January 2024 02:41

In a statement following Kenneth Smith’s execution, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said the case could “finally be put to rest”.

“On March 18, 1988, 45-year-old Elizabeth Sennett’s life was brutally taken from her by Kenneth Eugene Smith,” Governor Ivey said.

“After more than 30 years and attempt after attempt to game the system, Mr. Smith has answered for his horrendous crimes.

“The execution was lawfully carried out by nitrogen hypoxia, the method previously requested by Mr Smith as an alternative to lethal injection. At long last, Mr. Smith got what he asked for, and this case can finally be put to rest.

“I pray that Elizabeth Sennett’s family can receive closure after all these years dealing with that great loss.”

Death row inmate’s statement before nitrogen execution

Friday 26 January 2024 03:12 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Alabama death row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith in his final statement said humanity took a step backwards in Alabama.

“Tonight Alabama causes humanity to take a step backwards. ... I’m leaving with love, peace and light,” he said.

He made the “I love you sign” with his hands toward family members who were witnesses. “Thank you for supporting me. Love, love all of you,” Smith said.

Kenneth Smith was ‘terrified’ at the possible torture

Friday 26 January 2024 03:28 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Rev Jeff Hood, who was with Kenneth Simth during his last hours, said the inmate was terrified before the execution.

“He’s terrified at the torture that could come. But he’s also at peace. One of the things he told me is he is finally getting out,” Mr Hood told the Associated Press.

Who was Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett?

Friday 26 January 2024 04:01 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Alabama death row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith was executed on Thursday, almost three decades after he was convicted in the 1988 murder-for-hire plot of Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett.

Sennett was found dead in her home on 18 March 1988 with eight stab wounds in the chest and one on each side of her neck. Smith was one of two men convicted in the killing. The other, John Forrest Parker, was executed in 2010.

Prosecutors said they were each paid $1,000 (£786) to kill Sennett on behalf of her pastor husband, who was deeply in debt and wanted to collect on insurance. The husband, Charles Sennett Sr, killed himself when the investigation focused on him as a suspect, according to court documents.

Smith’s 1989 conviction was overturned, but he was convicted again in 1996. The jury recommended a life sentence by 11-1, but a judge overrode that and sentenced him to death.

The victim’s son, Charles Sennett Jr, earlier told WAAY-TV that Smith “has to pay for what he’s done”.

“And some of these people out there say, ‘Well, he doesn’t need to suffer like that.’ Well, he didn’t ask Mama how to suffer?” he said.

“They just did it. They stabbed her — multiple times.”

Smith feared nitrogen gas method would be used by more states

Friday 26 January 2024 04:40 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

In an interview days before his execution, the death row inmate in Alabama warned Americans that if his nitrogen execution were successful that process could be adopted by other states.

Kenneth Eugene Smith on Thursday became the first person in US history to be executed with nitrogen gas.

Smith told The Guardian in a phone call from his prison cell that he was not ready to die and had been diagnosed with PTSD caused by his first failed execution attempt. He said he suffered from sleeplessness and anxiety.

Smith said he was terrified by the prospect of vomiting in the mask leading and had appealed to people to show mercy for inmates facing judicial killings.

“You know, brother, I’d say, ‘Leave room for mercy’. That just doesn’t exist in Alabama. Mercy really doesn’t exist in this country when it comes to difficult situations like mine,” he told the newspaper.

“I fear that it will be successful, and you will have a nitrogen system coming to your state very soon,” he added.

Concern over the use of nitrogen gas in inmate executions

Friday 26 January 2024 05:20 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Alabama death row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith became the first person in American history to be executed with nitrogen gas.

UN human rights experts and lawyers for Smith had sought to prevent it, saying the method was risky, experimental and could lead to a torturous death or non-fatal injury.

The state has called its new protocol “the most painless and humane method of execution known to man.”Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights office, said: “This could amount to torture or other cruel or degrading treatment or punishment under international human rights law.”

“Nitrogen gas has never been used in the United States to execute human beings.”

Lawmakers in Oklahoma and Mississippi have also approved similar nitrogen-asphyxiation execution protocols in recent years, but have yet to put them into practice.

“There are so many unanswered questions about this protocol and I think there are real concerns that Smith will suffer a cruel and painful death, while possibly endangering others in the execution chamber,” Robin Maher, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said in a statement.

In an appeal filed in November, Smith’s attorneys argued that the method “can cause severe and permanent injuries short of death, including a persistent vegetative state, stroke, or the painful sensation of suffocation”.

“Just the idea of using gas for executions is an affront to our community,” Mike Zoosman, the co-founder of L’chaim, was quoted by The Guardian as saying.

“The Nazi legacy of experimentation to find the most expeditious way to rid our community of undesirable prisoners is an undercurrent for anyone who is aware of that history that should not be repeated in Alabama, or anywhere.”

Kenneth Smith’s wife breaks down during presser

Friday 26 January 2024 05:50 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Reverend Dr Jeff Hood (L), the spiritual advisor for convicted killer Kenneth Eugene Smith, comforts Smith’s wife Deanna Smith as she describes the execution of her husband by nitrogen gas (EPA)
Reverend Dr Jeff Hood (L), the spiritual advisor for convicted killer Kenneth Eugene Smith, comforts Smith’s wife Deanna Smith as she describes the execution of her husband by nitrogen gas (EPA)
Reverend Dr Jeff Hood, the spiritual advisor for convicted killer Kenneth Eugene Smith, describes the execution of Smith by nitrogen gas (EPA)
Reverend Dr Jeff Hood, the spiritual advisor for convicted killer Kenneth Eugene Smith, describes the execution of Smith by nitrogen gas (EPA)

Alabama death row inmate described his state’s previous botched execution attempt

Friday 26 January 2024 07:10 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Kenneth Eugene Smith was a member of strange and horrific club: people Alabama has attempted to execute, but failed to do so in time. Its membership grew last year, with the state failing on two separate attempts to successfully complete a death sentence.

Josh Marcus has more.

Alabama death row inmate describes state’s botched execution attempt

Death row inmate’s statement before nitrogen execution

Friday 26 January 2024 07:30 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Alabama death row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith in his final statement said humanity took a step backwards in Alabama.

“Tonight Alabama causes humanity to take a step backwards. ... I’m leaving with love, peace and light,” he said.

He made the “I love you sign” with his hands toward family members who were witnesses. “Thank you for supporting me. Love, love all of you,” Smith said.

UN: Executing Alabama inmate with nitrogen gas would be ‘torture'

Friday 26 January 2024 08:00 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

The UN earlier this month said executing the Alabama death row inmate using a new and experimental method would amount to “torture”.

Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN Human Rights office voiced concerns, stating that the organisation had “serious concerns” over the proposed execution.

“We are alarmed by the imminent execution in the United States of America of Kenneth Eugene Smith, through the novel and untested method – suffocation by nitrogen gas,” Ms Shamdasani said at a press conference.

“This could amount to torture or other cruel or degrading treatment or punishment under international human rights law. Nitrogen gas has never been used in the United States to execute human beings.”

UN: ‘Death penalty is an anachronism that doesn’t belong in the 21st Century'

Friday 26 January 2024 17:41 , Mike Bedigan

Following the execution of Eugene Smith on Thursday, United Nations spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said that the death penalty was “an anachronism that doesn’t belong in the 21st Century” and called on US states to suspend its use.

“We deeply regret the execution of candidate Eugene Smith in Alabama despite serious concerns that this novel and untested method of suffocation by nitrogen gas may amount to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” she said.

“Let’s just bring an end to the death penalty. This is an anachronism that doesn’t belong in the 21st century. There is no proof that the death penalty deters crime, but on the contrary, there is a lot of evidence of miscarriages of justice.

“The death penalty is inconsistent with the fundamental right to life, and we urge all states to put in place a moratorium on its use as a step towards universal abolition.”

Kenneth Smith’s last meal, final statement and more

Friday 26 January 2024 08:30 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Kenneth Smith was visited in prison by his wife and sons, who also witnessed his execution. His last meal was steak, eggs and hash browns.

Michelle Del Rey with more details here.

Kenneth Smith executed by nitrogen in controversial death row case

Kenneth Smith’s last meal, final statement and more

Friday 26 January 2024 08:30 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Kenneth Smith was visited in prison by his wife and sons, who also witnessed his execution by nitrogen on Thursday. His last meal was steak, eggs and hash browns.

Michelle Del Rey with more details here.

Kenneth Smith executed by nitrogen in controversial death row case

Concern over the use of nitrogen gas in inmate executions

Friday 26 January 2024 09:00 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Alabama death row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith became the first person in American history to be executed with nitrogen gas.

UN human rights experts and lawyers for Smith had sought to prevent it, saying the method was risky, experimental and could lead to a torturous death or non-fatal injury.

The state has called its new protocol “the most painless and humane method of execution known to man". Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights office, said: “This could amount to torture or other cruel or degrading treatment or punishment under international human rights law.”

“Nitrogen gas has never been used in the United States to execute human beings.”

Lawmakers in Oklahoma and Mississippi have also approved similar nitrogen-asphyxiation execution protocols in recent years, but have yet to put them into practice.

"They said lethal injection was humane - that was a lie. They'll claim this execution was humane, and that is a lie, too," said Maya Foa, the US director of Reprieve.

"The whole purpose of these methods is to hide pain. How many more prisoners must die agonizing deaths before we see executions for what they really are: the state violently taking a human life?"

WATCH: Witness describes Kenneth Smith’s historic nitrogen gas execution

Friday 26 January 2024 09:20 , Rachel Sharp

Pastor reveals Smith ‘struggled for life’ for 22 minutes in nitrogen gas execution

Friday 26 January 2024 09:40 , Rachel Sharp

Kenneth Eugene Smith’s religious adviser Reverend Jeff Hood, who witnessed the execution, told reporters afterwards that what he saw was a man “struggling for their life” for a staggering 22 minutes.

Alabama authorities had predicted the untested method would lead to unconsciousness within seconds and death in only a matter of minutes.

Following the execution, the state continued to insist the execution went to plan.

But, witnesses said Smith appeared conscious for several minutes, shaking and writhing on the gurney.

“We didn’t see somebody go unconscious in 30 seconds,” said Rev Hood.

“Heaving back and forth, we saw spit, we saw all sorts of stuff develop from the mask. The mask was tied to the gurney, ripping his head back and forth over and over again.”

Alabama prison officials insist ‘nothing was out of the ordinary’ in 22-minute execution

Friday 26 January 2024 11:00 , Rachel Sharp

Alabama prison officials continue to insist that the execution went as planned – despite witnesses saying Kenneth Eugene Smith’s death appeared to be anything but quick and painless.

Witnesses said that Smith took around 22 minutes to die in total.

According to the members of the media in the room, he appeared conscious for several minutes into the execution and at the two-minute mark he started shaking and writhing on the gurney.

This was followed by several minutes of deep breathes as he lay on the gurney before his breathe slowed to no longer being perceptive.

He was pronounced dead at 8.25pm CT.

However, John Hamm, Alabama’s Commissioner of the Department of Corrections, said at a press conference that “nothing was out of the ordinary” during the execution.

He claimed that it appeared that Smith had been holding his breathe as long as he could during the execution.

He put reports that Smith was seen struggling against the restraints down to “involuntary movement”.

“That was all expected… nothing was out of the ordinary,” he insisted.

Human rights organisation blasts ‘lie’ that execution was humane

Friday 26 January 2024 11:20 , Rachel Sharp

Human rights organisation Reprieve has blasted the “lie” that the execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith was humane.

Reprieve US Director Maya Foa said in a statement to The Independent following the execution:

“They said lethal injection was humane – that was a lie. They’ll claim this execution was humane, and that is a lie, too.

“The whole purpose of these methods is to hide pain. How many more prisoners must die agonizing deaths before we see executions for what they really are: the state violently taking a human life?”

Which states allow nitrogen gas executions?

Friday 26 January 2024 12:23 , Rachel Sharp

To date, three states have approved the use of nitrogen gas for executions of death row inmates.

Those states are Alabama, Oklahoma and Mississippi.

However, neither Oklahoma or Mississippi have ever used the execution method.

Alabama, which adopted the method in 2018, became the first to use it when Kenneth Eugene Smith was put to death on Thursday 25 January.

‘There was shock at how violent the execution was'

Friday 26 January 2024 12:40 , Rachel Sharp

Lee Hedgepeth, one of the few journalists who witnessed Kenneth Eugene Smith’s execution, has spoken out to say that there was “shock in the room at how violent the execution was”.

“I’ve been to four previous executions and I’ve never seen a condemned inmate thrash in the way that Kenneth Smith reacted to the nitrogen gas,” he told the BBC’s Newsday programme.

“Kenny just began to gasp for air repeatedly and the execution took about 25 minutes total.”

UN human rights chief condemns execution of Kenneth Smith

Friday 26 January 2024 13:40 , Rachel Sharp

Witnesses say Kenneth Smith’s execution did not go as planned

Friday 26 January 2024 16:07 , Michelle Del Rey

At a news conference after the execution, Smith’s spiritual advisor, Jeff Hood, said the state’s execution did not go as planned according to court documents Alabama filed in opposition to legal challenges by the prisoner’s attorneys this week.

“Anybody that witnessed this knows that we didn’t see someone go unconscious in two or three minutes. We didn’t see someone go unconscious in 30 seconds. What we saw was minutes of someone struggling for their life.”

Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Hamm said that gas was flowing into Smith’s mask for about 15 minutes and appeared to downplay the prisoner’s reaction at a separate news conference, saying that his reaction was not different to what had been expected.

“What we saw was minutes of someone heaving back and forth,” Mr Hood said.

Alabama AG says 43 other death row inmates have elected to use nitrogen hypoxia

Friday 26 January 2024 16:23 , Michelle Del Rey

Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said at least 43 other inmates have elected to use nitrogen gas as an execution method.

There are now 165 people on death row in the state. Death row inmates are able to choose their method of execution from electrocution, lethal injection or nitrogen hypoxia. Mr Marshall said the majority of the elections happened after the state Legislature approved nitrogen hypoxia for executions in 2018.

Based on feedback he’s received, the AG has said that he expects other states to follow suit with the new execution method. So far, only Mississippi and Oklahoma have also approved it. Despite concerns and reports that Smith had been “writhing and thrashing” during the execution, the AG maintained that nothing out of the ordinary took place Thursday night.

At the news conference, the AG expressed frustration due to the focus on reporters’ questions about whether Smith’s execution was humane and not on Elizabeth Sennett, who Smith was convicted of murdering.

“The majority of the questions we’ve had here today have dealt with Mr Smith,” he said. “We cannot lose sight of the fact that a woman was brutally murdered. Taken from her family and that’s the reason why the state of Alabama had to act last night,” the AG continued, raising his voice.

“Let’s remember her legacy and her life as much as we remember the person who took her away from us.” At several points during his remarks, Mr Marshall referred to Smith’s death as justice for Ms Sennett’s family but expressed remorse about the amount of time it took.

Speaking after the execution, one of the woman’s sons said Smith had been incarcerated almost twice as long as he knew his mother.

More human rights organisations condemn Kenneth Smith execution

Friday 26 January 2024 17:24 , Michelle Del Rey

“The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and accounts of Kenneth Smith’s last moments simply show that there is no humane way to take someone’s life,” Amnesty International USA said following the execution.

“It is high time for those in power to stop trying to fix the failed experiment that is the death penalty. Instead, they should devote all resources and focus on alternatives that would more effectively address crime at its roots and protect human rights. We call on the Alabama authorities to immediately establish a moratorium on all executions as a first critical step towards abolition.”

The American Civil Liberties Union agreed.

“Mr. Smith should have never been killed, let alone in such a gruesome manner,” said the organisation’s Deputy Legal Direction Yasmin Cader. “Alabama’s execution of Kenneth Smith in a horrific, reckless, and untested manner is a profound illustration of the barbaric practice of capital punishment.”

Kenneth Smith ‘vindicated’ jury decision to spare his life while in prison

Friday 26 January 2024 18:21 , Mike Bedigan

Kenneth Smith “vindicated” a previous jury decision to spare his life while in prison, having worked hard to become and stay sober and earning an associates degree through studying, his lawyers have said.

A statement from law firms Arnold & Porter and Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, highlighted Smith’s work to help other inmates during his time behind bars.

“We are deeply saddened that the state of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Corrections have executed Kenneth Eugene Smith. During his incarceration, Kenny vindicated the jury’s judgment when it voted 11-1 to spare his life that Kenny’s life had value despite the crime for which he was convicted,” the statement read.

“He worked to become and stay sober. He found and sincerely practiced his faith. He studied and earned an associate’s degree. He developed his artistic skill and would have made a very fine lawyer under different circumstances.

“He helped other inmates whom he considered his brothers to achieve sobriety and with other personal problems and he maintained loving relationships with his wife, mother, siblings, children, grandchildren, and other family and friends.”

The statement continued: “Nothing can undo the tragic consequences of the actions for which he was convicted, including the pain of the Sennett family and friends.

“Kenny’s life, however, should be considered in its full context.Kenny was subject to the death penalty only because his trial judge applied a since-repealed Alabama statute to override the jury’s 11 to 1 determination that his life should be spared – a practice that not only is unavailable under current Alabama law but also has since been declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court.

“There currently are efforts in the Alabama legislature to ensure that inmates like Kenny, who are on death row only because a judge overrode a jury’s measured determination to spare their lives, won’t suffer the same fate that he did today.

“Unfortunately, those efforts, if successful, will be too late for Kenny.”

Kenneth Smith’s final words revealed by witness

Friday 26 January 2024 19:00 , Mike Bedigan

Kenneth Smith told his family he loved them and condemned the state of Alabama in his final words, a reporter who witnessed his execution has said.

According to Lee Hedgepeth, after the death warrant authorising Smith’s execution was read, he was asked to give any last words.

“Tonight, Alabama causes humanity to take a step backwards,’ he reportedly said, before addressing his family and friends.

“I’m leaving with love, peace, and light. Thank you for supporting me. I love all of you.”

Mr Hedgepeth reported that the nitrogen gas – Smith’s chosen method of execution – had then been turned on to which Smith had reacted “vigourously”. Mr Hedgepeth said that it was “the most violent execution I have ever witnessed”.

Kenneth Smith’s pastor: Corrections officials ‘were visibly surprised at how bad this thing went'

Friday 26 January 2024 20:15 , Mike Bedigan

Kenneth Eugene Smith’s spiritual adviser has claimed that even the Alabama corrections officials in the room were clearly shocked by what they saw as the inmate was put to death by nitrogen asphyxia.

Prior to Smith’s execution – using a never-before-used method, the state said that they expected him to fall unconscious in seconds and die within minutes.

Multiple witnesses and members of the media have revealed that was not the case.

“We also saw corrections officials in the room who were visibly surprised at how bad this thing went,” said Reverend Jeff Hood at a press conference after the execution.

“I know that [Alabama DOC] Commissoner Hamm, that ADOC is gonna come out and say well this is what we thought would happen, but look at their court filings... this is not what they thought would happen.”

He added: :I think that anybody that witnessed this knows that we didn’t see someone go unconscious in two or three seconds... We didn’t see somebody go unconscious in 30 seconds.”

The pastor urged: “We have to make sure this never, ever happens again.”

Full story: Alabama execution: Kenneth Smith killed by nitrogen gas in first death row case of its kind

Friday 26 January 2024 21:15 , Mike Bedigan

Convicted murderer Kenneth Smith thrashed violently and repeatedly gasped for air during a 22-minute execution as he became the first inmate to be put to death with nitrogen gas.

The 58-year-old was strapped to a gurney and fitted with a mask and a breathing tube that controlled the gas, slowly depriving him of oxygen, at William C. Holman prison in Atmore, Alabama last night.

Moments before the execution, he said “I’m leaving with love, peace and light”, before turning to his family and signing the words “I love you”.

Journalists inside the room described how Smith appeared to struggle as he was put to death. Lee Hedgepeth said: “I’ve been to four previous executions and I’ve never seen a condemned inmate thrash in the way that Kenneth Smith reacted to the nitrogen gas.

Read the full story:

Kenneth Smith executed by nitrogen in controversial death row case

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights calls for moratorium on death penalty

Friday 26 January 2024 22:21 , Mike Bedigan

In a statement shared by the United Nations, High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk called for a “moratorium” on the death penalty, following the execution of Kenneth Smith.

It comes after witnesses reported that Smith’s execution – using nitrogen gas – on Thursday evening, did not go to plan and that he “struggled for his life” for several minutes, rather than falling immediately unconcious.

Mr Truk said in a statement: “I deeply regret the execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith in Alabama despite serious concerns this novel and untested method of suffocation by nitrogen gas may amount to torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

“The death penalty is inconsistent with the fundamental right to life. I urge all States to put in place a moratorium on its use, as a step towards universal abolition.”

IN PICTURES: Anti-death penalty protesters outside the Alabama prison

Friday 26 January 2024 23:10 , Mike Bedigan

Anti-death penalty activists place signs along the road heading to Holman Correctional Facility:

Anti-death penalty activists place signs along the road heading to Holman Correctional Facility (AP)
Anti-death penalty activists place signs along the road heading to Holman Correctional Facility (AP)

Anti-death penalty activists protest outside the Atmore prison ahead of the execution:

Anti-death penalty activists place signs along the road heading to Holman Correctional Facility (AP)
Anti-death penalty activists place signs along the road heading to Holman Correctional Facility (AP)

Co-founder and executive director of Death Penalty Action Abraham Bonowitz outside the penitentiary:

Co-founder and executive director of Death Penalty Action Abraham Bonowitz outside the penitentiary (REUTERS)
Co-founder and executive director of Death Penalty Action Abraham Bonowitz outside the penitentiary (REUTERS)

WATCH: Pastor reveals horrors of Kenneth Smith’s execution

Saturday 27 January 2024 00:10 , Mike Bedigan

Why was Kenneth Eugene Smith on death row?

Saturday 27 January 2024 01:10 , Mike Bedigan

In 1988, Smith was convicted of murdering Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett in a murder-for-hire plot in Colbert County, Alabama.

Sennett was the wife of Church of Christ pastor Charles Sennett, who allegedly paid Smith and another man $1,000 to kill his spouse.

The pastor was allegedly deeply in debt and wanted to collect on insurance from her death, according to court documents.

Sennett was killed in a brutal attack inside her home.

 (Supplied)
(Supplied)

She was beaten by a fireplace implement and stabbed 10 times in the chest and neck, her death staged to look like a home invasion and burglary.

In 1989, Smith was sentenced to death for capital murder, but it was overturned on appeal in 1992.

A jury then sentenced him to life without parole by a vote of 11 to one.

But Smith ultimately wasn’t spared a death sentence, as a judge overruled the jury and handed him the death penalty for a second time in 1996.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall reacts to Smith’s death

Saturday 27 January 2024 02:00 , Mike Bedigan

“Justice has been served. Tonight, Kenneth Smith was put to death for the heinous act he committed over 35 years ago: the murder-for-hire slaying of Elizabeth Sennett, an innocent woman who was by all accounts a godly wife, a loving mother and grandmother, and a beloved pillar of her community,” The AG said in a written statement.

“I ask the people of Alabama to join me in praying for Elizabeth’s family and friends, that they might now better be able to find long-awaited peace and closure.

Smith’s death also marked the first time anywhere in the world that nitrogen hypoxia, the process of slowly depriving a prisoner of oxygen using a fitted mask, was used. The AG described the event as “something historic.”

He said activists “don’t care that Alabama’s new method is humane and effective, because they know it is also easy to carry out.

“Despite the international effort by activists to undermine and disparage our state’s justice system and to deny justice to the victims of heinous murders, our proven method offers a blueprint for other states and a warning to those who would contemplate shedding innocent blood.”

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey claims Smith ‘got what he asked for’ after execution

Saturday 27 January 2024 03:00 , Mike Bedigan

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey released a statement following Smith’s execution, in which she claimed the death row inmate “got what he asked for” with his controversial, nitrogen gas execution.

Read her statement in full:

“On March 18, 1988, 45-year-old Elizabeth Sennett’s life was brutally taken from her by Kenneth Eugene Smith.

“After more than 30 years and attempt after attempt to game the system, Mr Smith has answered for his horrendous crimes.

“The execution was lawfully carried out by nitrogen hypoxia, the method previously requested by Mr Smith as an alternative to lethal injection.

“At long last, Mr Smith got what he asked for, and this case can finally be put to rest.

“I pray that Elizabeth Sennett’s family can receive closure after all these years dealing with that great loss.”

UN: ‘Death penalty is an anachronism that doesn’t belong in the 21st century’

Saturday 27 January 2024 05:00 , Mike Bedigan

Following the execution of Kenneth Smith, Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the United Nations Human Rights Office said that the death penalty was “an anachronism that doesn’t belong in the 21st Century.”

“We deeply regret the execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith in Alabama despite serious concerns that this novel and untested method of suffocation by nitrogen gas may amount to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” she said.

“Let's just bring an end to the death penalty. This is an anachronism that doesn't belong in the 21st century.

“There is no proof that the death penalty deters crime, but on the contrary, there is a lot of evidence of miscarriages of justice. The death penalty is inconsistent with the fundamental right to life, and we urge all states to put in place a moratorium on its use as a step towards universal abolition.”

Elizabeth Sennett’s son says Smith’s execution was ‘bittersweet’

Saturday 27 January 2024 07:00 , Mike Bedigan

Elizabeth Sennett’s son Mike Sennett described the execution of his mother’s killer as “bittersweet” as he gave an emotional speech to reporters at a press conference after leaving the penitentiary.

“Nothing happened here today is going to bring mom back. Nothing. It’s kind of a bittersweet day,” he said.

“We are not going to be jumping around, whooping and hollering, hooray and all that, that’s not us. But we’re glad this day is over.

“All three of the people involved in this case years ago we have forgiven... I forgive ‘em for what they done,” he added.

Mr Sennett, who was supported by his wife Kim Sennette, concluded by saying: “I’ll end by saying Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett got her justice tonight.”

Mike Sennett (REUTERS)
Mike Sennett (REUTERS)

IN PICTURES: Aftermath of Kenneth Eugene Smith’s execution

Saturday 27 January 2024 09:00 , Mike Bedigan

Reverend Jeff Hood, the spiritual advisor to Kenneth Smith, comforts Smith’s wife Deanna Smith after his execution:

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Reverend Jeff Hood, the spiritual advisor to Kenneth Smith, speaks to reporters at the Holiday Inn Express after Smith’s execution:

Jeff Hood, the spiritual advisor to Kenneth Smith, speaks to reporters at the Holiday Inn Express, (REUTERS)
Jeff Hood, the spiritual advisor to Kenneth Smith, speaks to reporters at the Holiday Inn Express, (REUTERS)

Mike Sennett, son of Elizabeth Sennett, and other family members speak after Kenneth Eugene Smith’s execution:

Mike Sennett, son of Elizabeth Sennett, and other family members speak after Kenneth Eugene Smith’s execution (AP)
Mike Sennett, son of Elizabeth Sennett, and other family members speak after Kenneth Eugene Smith’s execution (AP)

Alabama’s Commissioner of the Department of Corrections John Hamm speaks to reporters alongside the family of Elizabeth Sennett:

Alabama’s Commissioner of the Department of Corrections John Hamm speaks to reporters alongside the family of Elizabeth Sennett (REUTERS)
Alabama’s Commissioner of the Department of Corrections John Hamm speaks to reporters alongside the family of Elizabeth Sennett (REUTERS)

Why do we treat our pets more humanely than a death row inmate?

Saturday 27 January 2024 11:00 , Mike Bedigan

Authorities in Alabama have come up with a grim and as-yet untested alternative to lethal injection and electric chair – being gassed to death with pure nitrogen, a reputedly ‘painless’ procedure that slowly starves the criminal of oxygen until they die.

But would you use it to put down a sickly pet, asks Sean O’Grady.

More here.

Why do we treat our pets more humanely than a death row inmate?

Alabama’s new execution method could be dangerous for everyone in the room

Saturday 27 January 2024 12:31 , Matt Mathers

Kenneth Eugene Smith is scheduled to become the first death row inmate to be executed with nitrogen. His pastor says the untested procedure is a cruel violation of religious liberties, Bevan Hurley reports.

Read the full piece here:

Alabama’s Kenneth Eugene Smith faces US’s first nitrogen execution. What is it?

Why Kenneth Smith is being denied food ahead of nitrogen execution

Saturday 27 January 2024 13:00 , Mike Bedigan

Ahead of his planned execution on Thursday, Kenneth Smith received his last meal at 10am.

He is not be allowed to consume liquids after 4pm, approximately two hours before the execution. Alabama inmates are provided three meals a day.

Read the full story here:

Why Kenneth Smith is being denied food ahead of nitrogen execution

ICYMI: Kenneth Smith killed by nitrogen gas in first death row case of its kind

Saturday 27 January 2024 13:00 , Matt Mathers

Convicted murderer Kenneth Smith thrashed violently and repeatedly gasped for air during a 22-minute execution as he became the first inmate to be put to death with nitrogen gas.

The 58-year-old was strapped to a gurney and fitted with a mask and a breathing tube that controlled the gas, slowly depriving him of oxygen, at William C Holman prison in Atmore, Alabama last night.

Full report:

Kenneth Smith executed by nitrogen in controversial death row case

ICYMI: What happened at the nation's first nitrogen gas execution: An AP eyewitness account

Saturday 27 January 2024 13:30 , Matt Mathers

As witnesses including five news reporters watched through a window, Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was convicted and sentenced to die in the 1988 murder-for hire slaying of Elizabeth Sennett, convulsed on a gurney as Alabama carried out the nation’s first execution using nitrogen gas.

Critics who had worried the new execution method would be cruel and experimental said Smith’s final moments Thursday night proved they were right. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, however, characterized it on Friday as a “textbook” execution.

Full report:

What happened at the nation's first nitrogen gas execution: An AP eyewitness account

ICYMI: Racism, gruesome errors, and botched executions

Saturday 27 January 2024 14:00 , Mike Bedigan

The last time Alabama attempted to execute Kenneth Eugene Smith, he was one of four death row inmates who were set to be killed across four states in just over 48 hours.

As Josh Marcus wrote for The Independent’s End the Death Penalty campaign at the time, the separate cases showed how capital punishment states struggle with the basics of swift, humane executions.

Then, Alabama botched Smith’s execution when it failed to a suitable vein in which to deliver the lethal drugs.

His execution by nitrogen hypoxia is due to be carried out by officials in the same chamber at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama, on Thursday.

Read Josh’s full story from November 2022 below.

Inside America’s controversial four-person, 48-hour execution spree

Why do we treat our pets more humanely than a death row inmate?

Saturday 27 January 2024 14:42 , Matt Mathers

Authorities in Alabama have come up with a grim and as-yet untested alternative to lethal injection and electric chair – being gassed to death with pure nitrogen, a reputedly ‘painless’ procedure that slowly starves the criminal of oxygen until they die. But would you use it to put down a sickly pet, asks Sean O’Grady.

Read Sean’s full piece here:

Why do we treat our pets more humanely than a death row inmate?

Why was Kenneth Eugene Smith on death row?

Saturday 27 January 2024 16:00 , Andrea Cavallier

Kenneth Eugene Smith became the first person in the world to be put to death using nitrogen gas after his execution was carried out on Thursday at an Alabama prison.

But how did Smith end up on death row in the first place? Read more:

Why is Kenneth Eugene Smith on death row in Alabama?

WATCH: Pastor who witnessed Kenneth Smith’s execution describes it as a ‘horror show’

Saturday 27 January 2024 17:00 , Andrea Cavallier

Who was Kenneth Smith’s victim, Elizabeth Sennett?

Saturday 27 January 2024 18:00 , Andrea Cavallier

Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett was murdered on 18 March 1988 by Kenneth Smith in a brutal attack inside her home in Colbert County, Alabama.

She was beaten by a fireplace implement and stabbed 10 times in the chest and neck, her death staged to look like a home invasion and burglary.

Sennett was the wife of Church of Christ pastor Charles Sennett, who allegedly paid Smith and another man $1,000 to kill her. The other man, John Forrest Parker, was executed in 2010.

The pastor was allegedly deeply in debt and wanted to collect on insurance from her death, according to court documents. He killed himself when the investigation focused on him as a suspect.

Smith was convicted in the murder-for-hire plot and in 1989, he was sentenced to death for capital murder, but it was overturned on appeal in 1992.

A jury then sentenced him to life without parole by a vote of 11 to one.

Smith ultimately wasn’t spared a death sentence, as a judge overruled the jury and handed him the death penalty for a second time in 1996.

Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett (Supplied)
Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett (Supplied)

What was Kenneth Smith’s last meal?

Saturday 27 January 2024 19:25 , Andrea Cavallier

Kenneth Smith was visited in prison by his wife and sons, who also witnessed his execution by nitrogen on Thursday.

His last meal was steak, eggs and hash browns.

Moments before the execution, he said: “Tonight, Alabama causes humanity to take a step backwards... Thank you for supporting me. Love you all”.

He then turned to his family and signed the words “I love you”.

Michelle Del Rey reports:

Kenneth Smith executed by nitrogen in controversial death row case

Kenneth Smith’s nitrogen execution will be used again, AG says

Saturday 27 January 2024 22:30 , Andrea Cavallier

The execution of Kennth Smith using nitrogen hypoxia was “textbook” and will be used again, Alabama’s attorney general Steve Marshall said in a news conference on Friday.

It was the first time nitrogen hypoxia was used for an execution.

“What occurred last night was textbook,” AG Marshall said. “As of last night, nitrogen hypoxia as a means of execution is no longer an untested method. It is a proven one.”

‘His debt was paid tonight’: Elizabeth Sennett's sons speak out about execution

Saturday 27 January 2024 23:30 , Andrea Cavallier

Elizabeth Sennett’s sons spoke out following the execution of their mother’s killer, Kenneth Smith.

“All three of the people involved in this case years ago, we have forgiven them,” Mike Sennett said in a news conference on Friday.

“Not today, but we have in the past. Some people may not believe that, you know, how do you forgive somebody...I forgive them, I forgive them for what they’ve done.”

Mr Sennett said Smith’s punishment was deserving and long overdue.

Mike Sennett said Kenneth Smith’s punishment was deserving and long overdue (AP)
Mike Sennett said Kenneth Smith’s punishment was deserving and long overdue (AP)

“You know, the Bible says that evil deeds have consequences,” he said. “Kenneth Smith made some bad decisions 35 years ago, and his debt was paid tonight.”

However, he added that this was not a day of joy, noting that nothing would bring their mother back.

“Nothing happened here today that’s going to bring mom back, nothing,” Mr Sennett said. “It’s kind of a bittersweet day. We’re not going to be jumping around, hooting and hollering and all that. That’s not us.”

PHOTOS: Kenneth Smith’s family reacts over execution

Sunday 28 January 2024 00:30 , Andrea Cavallier

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Why do we treat our pets more humanely than a death row inmate?

Sunday 28 January 2024 01:30 , Andrea Cavallier

It’s a grim alternative to lethal injection and electric chair – being gassed to death with pure nitrogen, a reputedly ‘painless’ procedure that slowly starves the criminal of oxygen until they die.

But would you use it to put down a sickly pet? Sean O’Grady reports:

Why do we treat our pets more humanely than a death row inmate?

What happened at the nation's first nitrogen gas execution

Sunday 28 January 2024 02:30 , Andrea Cavallier

Five news reporters watched through a window as Kenneth Eugene Smith convulsed on a gurney as Alabama carried out the nation’s first execution using nitrogen gas.

Here’s an AP eyewitness account:

What happened at the nation's first nitrogen gas execution: An AP eyewitness account

Alabama AG says 43 other death row inmates have elected to use nitrogen hypoxia

Sunday 28 January 2024 04:00 , Andrea Cavallier

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said at least 43 other inmates have elected to use nitrogen gas as an execution method.

Based on feedback he’s received, the AG has said that he expects other states to follow suit with the new execution method.

So far, only Mississippi and Oklahoma have also approved it.

Despite concerns and reports that Smith had been “writhing and thrashing” during the execution, the AG maintained that nothing out of the ordinary took place Thursday night.

Who is murder victim Elizabeth Sennett?

Sunday 28 January 2024 05:00 , Andrea Cavallier

Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett was found dead in her home on 18 March 1988 with eight stab wounds in the chest and one on each side of her neck.

Kenneth Smith was one of two men convicted in the killing. The other, John Forrest Parker, was executed in 2010.

Prosecutors said they were each paid $1,000 to kill Sennett on behalf of her pastor husband, who was deeply in debt and wanted to collect on insurance.

The husband, Charles Sennett Sr, killed himself when the investigation focused on him as a suspect, according to court documents.

Smith’s 1989 conviction was overturned, but he was convicted again in 1996. The jury recommended a life sentence by 11-1, but a judge overrode that and sentenced him to death.

The victim’s son, Charles Sennett Jr, earlier told WAAY-TV that Smith “has to pay for what he’s done”.

“And some of these people out there say, ‘Well, he doesn’t need to suffer like that.’ Well, he didn’t ask Mama how to suffer?” he said.

“They just did it. They stabbed her — multiple times.”

What did Kenneth Eugene Smith do to get the death penalty?

Sunday 28 January 2024 07:00 , Andrea Cavallier

In 1988, Smith was convicted of murdering Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett in a murder-for-hire plot in Colbert County, Alabama.

Sennett was the wife of Church of Christ pastor Charles Sennett, who allegedly paid Smith and another man $1,000 to kill his spouse.

The pastor was allegedly deeply in debt and wanted to collect on insurance from her death, according to court documents.

Sennett was killed in a brutal attack inside her home. She was beaten by a fireplace implement and stabbed 10 times in the chest and neck, her death staged to look like a home invasion and burglary.

In 1989, Smith was sentenced to death for capital murder, but it was overturned on appeal in 1992.

A jury then sentenced him to life without parole by a vote of 11 to one.

But Smith ultimately wasn’t spared a death sentence, as a judge overruled the jury and handed him the death penalty for a second time in 1996.

Kenneth Smith’s last statement before nitrogen execution

Sunday 28 January 2024 09:00 , Andrea Cavallier

In his final statement before he was executed, Alabama death row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith said humanity took a step backwards in Alabama.

“Tonight Alabama causes humanity to take a step backwards. ... I’m leaving with love, peace and light,” he said.

He made the “I love you sign” with his hands toward family members who were witnesses. “Thank you for supporting me. Love, love all of you,” Smith said.

Witness describes Kenneth Smith's historic nitrogen gas execution

Sunday 28 January 2024 11:00 , Andrea Cavallier

Religious adviser reveals Smith ‘struggled for life’ for 22 minutes during execution

Sunday 28 January 2024 12:00 , Andrea Cavallier

Kenneth Smith’s religious adviser Reverend Jeff Hood, who witnessed the execution, told reporters afterwards that what he saw was a man “struggling for their life” for a staggering 22 minutes.

Alabama authorities had predicted the untested method would lead to unconsciousness within seconds and death in only a matter of minutes.

Following the execution, the state continued to insist the execution went to plan.

But, witnesses said Smith appeared conscious for several minutes, shaking and writhing on the gurney.

“We didn’t see somebody go unconscious in 30 seconds,” said Rev Hood.

“Heaving back and forth, we saw spit, we saw all sorts of stuff develop from the mask. The mask was tied to the gurney, ripping his head back and forth over and over again.”

Which states allow nitrogen gas executions?

Sunday 28 January 2024 13:00 , Andrea Cavallier

Three states have approved the use of nitrogen gas for executions of death row inmates.

Those states are Alabama, Oklahoma and Mississippi.

However, neither Oklahoma or Mississippi have ever used the execution method.

Alabama, which adopted the method in 2018, became the first to use it when Kenneth Eugene Smith was put to death on Thursday 25 January.

Alabama governor prays execution gives victim’s family closure

Sunday 28 January 2024 14:00 , Andrea Cavallier

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said the case could “finally be put to rest” following Kenneth Smith’s execution.

“On March 18, 1988, 45-year-old Elizabeth Sennett’s life was brutally taken from her by Kenneth Eugene Smith,” Governor Ivey said.

“After more than 30 years and attempt after attempt to game the system, Mr. Smith has answered for his horrendous crimes.

“The execution was lawfully carried out by nitrogen hypoxia, the method previously requested by Mr Smith as an alternative to lethal injection. At long last, Mr. Smith got what he asked for, and this case can finally be put to rest.

“I pray that Elizabeth Sennett’s family can receive closure after all these years dealing with that great loss.”