Saturday, February 24, 2024

A prisoner was executed with nitrogen gas for the first time in the US

The state of Alabama, in the southern United States, carried out this Thursday the first execution of a person sentenced to death with nitrogen gas, the first use of this method in the country that the UN equates to “torture.”

Inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was sentenced to death in 1996 for killing a woman on the orders of her husband, was pronounced dead at 8:25 pm (02:25 GMT on Friday), 29 minutes after the start of the execution, according to a statement from the attorney general from Alabama.

“Justice has been done. Tonight, Kenneth Smith was killed for the heinous act he committed 35 years ago,” declared Steve Marshall, saying Alabama “has done something historic.”

His execution was the first of the year in the United States, where in 2023 there will be 24, all by lethal injection. And this is the first time in more than 40 years that a new method of execution has been introduced in the country.

A previous lethal injection attempt on November 17, 2022, was canceled when prison officials were unable to set up an intravenous line to administer the drugs within the legally stipulated time after being “tied up for hours,” according to his lawyers.

Alabama is one of three states in the country that allows execution by nitrogen inhalation, where death occurs due to hypoxia, that is, a lack of oxygen.

The European Union, in a statement, deplored the execution of Smith in a manner that “according to leading experts (…) is an extremely cruel and unusual punishment” and recalled its strong opposition to the death penalty “in all times and circumstances.”

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“I deeply regret the killing of Kenneth Eugene Smith in Alabama, despite serious concerns that this untested method of nitrogen asphyxiation may constitute torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk.

Last week, its Office (OHCHR) said it was “alarmed” by this execution, and its spokesperson, Ravina Shamdasani, requested that it be suspended.

The protocol for implementing nitrogen hypoxia in Alabama does not provide for sedation, although the American Veterinary Association (AVMA) recommends giving a sedative to animals euthanized in this way, according to Shamdasani.

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Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, alleging that this new execution attempt violates his constitutional rights, in addition to requesting its suspension. All appeals he previously filed in Alabama were rejected.

But the country’s highest court, with a majority of conservative judges, rejected the request on Wednesday.

In its pleadings, the state of Alabama said that nitrogen hypoxia is “probably the most humane method of killing ever invented.”

“Alabama authorities failed in three consecutive executions in 2022, including that of Mr. Smith,” said the executive director of the special observatory Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), Robin Maher.

“Maybe they feel more comfortable moving to a completely different way of killing, even if it’s completely experimental and untested,” he told AFP.

“I’m still traumatized from the last time,” the inmate confessed in December in an interview with public radio NPR, where he admitted to being “absolutely terrified” at the prospect of going through the same thing.

In 1988, he was convicted of murdering Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett, 45, who was ordered by her husband, Charles Sennett, a deeply indebted and dishonest pastor, to make it look like a robbery. made a mistake.

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Although the husband committed suicide, the police followed the path of the murder that led to the deaths of the two men. Kenneth Eugene Smith’s partner, John Forrest Parker, who was sentenced to death, was executed in 2010.

Smith was also sentenced to death once, but the trial was overturned on appeal. In 1996, at his second trial, 11 out of 12 jurors were in favor of life imprisonment.

But in his case, like his accomplice, the judge overruled the jury and sentenced him to death, a possibility that once existed in some states but has now been eliminated nationwide.

In its annual report in December, the DPIC observatory said that the majority of prisoners executed in the United States in 2023 “would likely not be sentenced to death today.”

This is based on changes in legislation and the fact that the mental health problems and trauma of defendants are now taken into account more.

The death penalty has been abolished in 23 states of the country, and another six have observed a moratorium on its application through the governor’s decision.

World Nation News Desk
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