This afternoon, Alabama time, Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, will be executed in Holman Correctional Facility. This will be the second time that Smith has prepared himself for his execution. In 2022, prison officials strapped him down on a gurney to inject but they were unable to find a vein.
Alabama allows a second method of execution: nitrogen hypoxia, or breathing pure nitrogen until death ensues. This is the method that will be used today.
Smith’s lawyers say that a second execution is cruel and unusual punishment. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall contends that nitrogen hypoxia is “perhaps the most humane method of execution ever devised.”
As often happens in cases of capital punishment in the US, Smith’s crime happened decades ago. In 1988 he and two accomplices were paid by a local pastor to murder his wife by bludgeoning and stabbing her to death. They were paid US$1000 each. One died in prison; one was executed with a lethal injection in 2010.
Dr Philip Nitschke, the controversial Australian right-to-die activist, has become involved in Smith’s case. He opposes the execution, but he also regards it as a disaster because it is terrible publicity for his organisation, Exit International. It has “set the movement back at least 20 years,” he says.
Smith’s case has been widely publicised and members of Exit are worried. Nitschke says: “Elderly people around the world are now asking whether they should reconsider their plan to use this method and asking where the truth lies. They want to know why the Alabama ‘experiment’ has prompted such negative reaction?”
Dr Nitschke says that his right-to-die movement is the only organisation that has expertise in killing people with nitrogen. He says that the executioners should be using a hood rather than a mask. “The risks that Alabama Corrections are taking in their new execution protocol could have been avoided if they had bothered to research the issue in more detail,” he says.