Alabama governor sets January date for nation’s first execution by nitrogen gas

By: - November 9, 2023 8:41 am
A medical bed with straps is pictured in a Texas execution chamber

Alabama's governor has set a date for the nation's first execution to be carried out using nitrogen gas. Oklahoma prison officials say they're watching closely as Alabama attempts to become the first state to use nitrogen hypoxia to carry out an execution. (Getty Images) (This image cannot be republished unless you have a subscription to Getty.)

Gov. Kay Ivey Wednesday set a January execution date for Kenneth Eugene Smith, convicted of the 1988 murder-for-hire of Elizabeth Sennett.

Ivey set an execution window starting at midnight on Jan. 25, 2024 and running until 6 am on January 26, 2024.

It could be the first execution carried out through nitrogen suffocation, a method never used on human beings.

Oklahoma to continue lethal injections as Alabama eyes nitrogen gas executions

The Alabama Supreme Court earlier this month allowed the state to move forward with the new method. Alabama would be the first state to use that method of execution in the nation’s history, a method professional veterinary associations discourage in the euthanasia of animals.

Smith has an appeal pending with the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, claiming that attempting to execute him a second time violates his constitutional rights.

Multiple civil rights groups have criticized the decision to have Smith executed by nitrogen hypoxia, with the ACLU of Alabama stating a week ago that “Governor Ivey and Attorney General Marshall have a responsibility to stop the execution of Mr. Smith.”

A jury convicted Smith of Sennett’s murder in 1996 and sentenced him to life without parole. However, the judge in the case overrode the jury’s verdict, sentencing Smith to death instead.

The state abolished judicial override back in 2017, the last state to do so, but did not make the rule retroactive to apply to those who were already on death row, including Smith.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision allowing Smith to choose nitrogen hypoxia as the method of his execution.

This is the second time that Alabama will try to execute Smith. In 2022, the state tried, and failed, to execute Smith through lethal injection.

This story first appeared in the Alabama Reflector.


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Ralph Chapoco
Ralph Chapoco

Ralph Chapoco covers state politics as a senior reporter for the Alabama Reflector. His main responsibility is the criminal justice system in Alabama.