NATIONAL NEWS

Spiritual adviser at first nitrogen gas execution asks Alabama for safeguards to protect witnesses

Jan 17, 2024, 5:36 PM

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The spiritual adviser for an Alabama prisoner set to be the first person executed with nitrogen gas has asked the state prison system to provide additional precautions to ensure the safety of bystanders and witnesses at the execution.

The Rev. Jeff Hood, who will stand near Kenneth Smith during his execution, sent a letter Monday to the Alabama prison system requesting safeguards in case of a nitrogen leak in the execution chamber. The requested safeguards include the presence of oxygen monitors in the death chamber, the availability of supplemental oxygen sources, the presence of ambulances and training on available exit routes.

Smith is scheduled to be put to death on Jan. 25 by nitrogen hypoxia, an execution method authorized in three states but that has never been used to put a person to death. The state plans to place a face mask over Smith’s nose and mouth to replace breathable air with pure nitrogen, causing him to die from lack of oxygen.

“Nitrogen hypoxia is a novel execution method. Use of this deadly gas, unlike lethal injection, poses a high risk of exposure to all bystanders. As such, its use requires special safeguards to protect all bystanders and observers, including Dr. Hood,” the letter sent by Hood’s attorney stated.

The Alabama Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to an email Wednesday seeking comment about the letter.

Hood and a correctional officer will be in the execution chamber when the warden activates the nitrogen gas system from an adjoining room. Witnesses, including attorneys, media witnesses and witnesses for the victim, will be watching the execution through windows from other adjoining rooms.

Nitrogen gas makes up 78% of the air inhaled by humans and is harmless when inhaled with proper levels of oxygen. But nitrogen gas can become quickly deadly when it displaces adequate levels of oxygen. The state has argued that the lack of oxygen will cause Smith to lose consciousness within seconds and die within minutes. However, Smith’s attorneys and critics of the proposed new execution method have likened it to human experimentation .

The state required Hood to sign a form acknowledging the risks and agreeing to stay 3 feet (91 centimeters) away from Smith’s gas mask. The form stated that in the “highly unlikely event that the hose supplying breathing gas to the mask were to detach, an area of free-flowing nitrogen gas could result, creating a small area of risk (approximately two feet) from the outflow.”

The nitrogen gas would be administered for at least 15 minutes or “five minutes following a flatline indication on the EKG, whichever is longer,” according to the state protocol.

A federal appeals court on Friday will hear arguments in Smith’s request to block the execution. Smith’s attorneys argued that there are many unknowns with a nitrogen execution and that the state’s proposed protocol violates the ban on cruel and unusual punishment. They also argued that the state violated his due process rights by scheduling the execution when he has pending appeals.

The state in a Wednesday court filing argued that the execution should be allowed to proceed.

“Smith admits that breathing 100% nitrogen gas would result in … death. And the experts agree that nitrogen hypoxia is painless because it causes unconsciousness in seconds,” the state argued.

Smith, now 58, was one of two men convicted of the murder-for-hire of a preacher’s wife that rocked Alabama in 1988. Prosecutors said Smith and the other man were each paid $1,000 to kill Elizabeth Sennett on behalf of her husband, who was deeply in debt and wanted to collect on insurance.

Smith was set to be killed by lethal injection in 2022, but the Alabama Department of Corrections had to call off the execution at the last minute when authorities couldn’t connect two intravenous lines.

National News

President Joe Biden raises the hand of Vice President Kamala Harris after viewing the Independence ...

Associated Press

Kamala Harris is now in a bright spotlight as she fights to secure the Democratic presidential nod

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris is being thrust into the most scrutinizing of spotlights, suddenly the leading candidate to succeed party’s main hope of defeating Republican Donald Trump. She spoke multiple times with Biden on Sunday, according to people familiar with the conversations – a day after Biden huddled with his closest aides […]

58 minutes ago

Associated Press

Biden’s decision to drop out leaves Democrats across the country relieved and looking toward future

HARPER WOODS, Mich. (AP) — After weeks of uncertainty about who would be at the top of the Democratic Party’s ticket in November, many voters expressed relief over the news that President Joe Biden would drop his reelection bid and began to think about who might replace him in a dramatically altered election landscape. Jerod […]

1 hour ago

FILE - Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, ...

Associated Press

Trump’s campaign quickly pivots to Harris after Biden announces decision to leave the race

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s campaign has spent the last year-and-a-half viciously attacking Joe Biden, ridiculing his policies, mocking his fumbles and relishing a rematch they felt they were winning. But they have also spent weeks preparing for the possibility that Biden might exit the race, readying a bevy of attacks against Vice President […]

1 hour ago

FILE - President Joe Biden listens as Vice President Kamala Harris speaks in the Rose Garden of the...

Associated Press

Democrats promise ‘orderly process’ to replace Biden, where Harris is favored but questions remain

WASHINGTON (AP) — Shortly after President Joe Biden announced Sunday that he would drop his reelection campaign, Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison had a message: There would be no automatic coronation for his replacement. “In the coming days, the party will undertake a transparent and orderly process to move forward,” Harrison said in a […]

2 hours ago

First lady Jill Biden, left, and second gentleman Douglass Emhoff, right, watch as President Joe Bi...

Associated Press

Biden’s decision to drop out crystalized Sunday. His staff knew one minute before the public did

WASHINGTON (AP) — At 1:45 p.m. Sunday, President Joe Biden’s senior staff was notified that he was stepping away from the 2024 race. At 1:46 p.m., that message was made public. It was never Biden’s intention to leave the race: Up until he decided to step aside Sunday, he was all in. His campaign was […]

2 hours ago

A sign is placed in front of the U.S. Naval Observatory, where Vice President Kamala Harris lives, ...

Associated Press

Democrats are rallying around Harris as she vows to ‘earn and win’ party nomination for president

Democrats quickly rallied around Vice President Kamala Harris as their likely presidential nominee Sunday after President Joe Biden ‘s ground-shaking decision to bow out of the 2024 race. But the fast-moving political situation remained volatile just months before the November election. Shortly after Biden stepped aside he firmly endorsed Harris, who would make history as […]

3 hours ago

Spiritual adviser at first nitrogen gas execution asks Alabama for safeguards to protect witnesses