Alabama, who is Kenneth Smith: he will be the first executed with nitrogen

The American Supreme Court rejected the request to prevent Alabama from executing with nitrogen, for the first time in the USA but also in the world, a convicted murderer, Kenneth Smith, who survived a failed lethal injection in 2022. judges refused to listen to his lawyers’ argument that a second execution attempt – after the plots caused by the failure of the first – would violate the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment. So far, numerous appeals to block capital punishment with a method that according to various experts is equivalent to a form of torture have been to no avail. The latest came from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, who wrote to the governor of the US state to suspend this practice: “I believe that what will happen in Alabama is absolutely horrible. In the 21st century the world should get rid of of this horrible way of punishing,” he said in an interview.

When will the execution be

Republican governor Kay Ivey has set today the start of the 36-hour period during which Smith’s execution is to take place, as he will be tied up and forced to breathe pure nitrogen into a mask until he suffocates. Smith, in the William C. Holman Correctional Facility, will be taken to the prison’s death chamber. He will be placed on a stretcher with a mask on his face. He will have two minutes to say his last words. Then the gas will be pumped into the mask for at least 15 minutes.

Who is Smith

The inmate is 59 years old and has been on death row in Holman prison for 34 years for having killed Elizabeth Sennett in 1988 on commission from her husband, a pastor with debts who wanted to collect the insurance premium and who then committed suicide. At trial the jury voted 11-1 to give the defendant a life sentence, but the judge overturned the decision and imposed the death penalty. The first attempt over a year ago with a lethal injection went badly, turning into a real torture: the doctors pierced his hands and arms with the syringe for more than an hour but were unable to find the vein, suspending the execution for the risk of not being able to meet the expected deadlines. Now Alabama is trying again with an alternative method never tried before: nitrogen hypoxia.

How Americans think

“I’m afraid that things will go wrong”, confessed the condemned man after the warning of some experts, according to which the planned mask risks leaks causing atrocious suffering. According to polls, in America there is still a slight majority in favor of the death penalty (81% of Republicans and 32% of Democrats), even if the number of executions has reduced from the peak of 98 in 1999 to 24 last year. Joe Biden, unlike Donald Trump, is for the abolition of capital punishment but last week his Ministry of Justice announced that it will ask to execute the white supremacist who killed 10 African Americans in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.