US Supreme Court Declines To Halt Country’s First Execution By Nitrogen Hypoxia In Alabama Murder Case

The US Supreme Court declined to restrict Alabama from carrying on the country’s first execution using nitrogen gas in the case of convicted murderer Kenneth Eugene Smith. 

Smith, 58, was slated to a death sentence for the second time for his involvement in a 1988 killing-for-hire case. In November 2022, he survived his first execution by Alabama’s executioners, who failed to execute him even after trying for several hours, due to a botched lethal injection. This led to the state’s death penalty procedures being reviewed, reported Reuters.

The justices on Wednesday plainly rejected the convict’s request to stay his execution, which is scheduled for Thursday, and declined to hear his challenge that Alabama’s second execution attempt after a failed attempt is causing him severe trauma. His challenge also highlighted that the second execution attempt violates the US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishments, Reuters reported.

According to his lawyers, the plan for a second execution caused Smith severe physical and psychological pain, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

Smith is also contesting the legality of the state’s nitrogen gas on the grounds of the Eighth Amendment. This litigation could probably be presented in the Supreme Court, which could give him another opportunity as the justices would decide whether to halt his execution. 

No justice has diverted from the decision yet. Additionally, a judge ruled against Smith’s concern about the protocal on January 10, and the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this decision on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

The untested gassing method was specially designed by Alabama under an authorised plan to execute Smith by depriving him of oxygen by placing a mask on his face to make him inhale pure nitrogen, which would lead to his death by suffocation and oxygen starvation, BBC News reported.

Smith was strapped to a gurney in a death chamber at Holman Correctional Facility by Alabama executioners in their first attempt to kill him. They then injected him with a lethal blend of chemicals but were unable to raise a vein in his collarbone, because of which they had to abandon the attempt. As they had been trying for several hours, it was midnight by then, and the death warrant issued for the day had expired, BBC News reported.

His lawyers characterised the experience as torturous and said that the failed attempt exposed him to severe mental anguish similar to a mock execution.

The botched execution was a third consecutive instance where Alabama’s officials faced problems inserting lines in veins for a lethal injection. Two other executions were called off previously for the same reason, Reuters reported.

After the lower courts in Alabama dismissed Smith’s plea, his lawyers urged the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and called the nitorgen-gas protocol a novel method of execution that was untested and recently released and was never used by any state or federal government. 

Alabama Republican Attorney General Steve Marshall called the method the most humane method of execution ever devised. The U.N. Human Rights office also asked Alabama to halt the execution as it violated American commitments under international law and amounted to torture, Reuters reported.

Smith’s execution is said to take place between 12 a.m. on Thursday and 6 a.m. on Thursday, within a 30-hour time frame. 

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