US Supreme Court refuses to block execution of man using untested method

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By Asiya Ali

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The US Supreme Court has refused to block a last-minute appeal to stop an Alabama inmate from being executed with a new untested method.

Hitman Kenneth Eugene Smith, sentenced to death in 1988 for the murder of preacher’s wife Elizabeth Sennett, is scheduled to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia on Thursday, January 25.

The death row inmate and his lawyers objected to the method because the state of Alabama might botch the procedure - like they did in November 2022 when they unsuccessfully attempted to execute him with the lethal injection. They also said that there are risks associated with the untested method and claimed that it was the equivalent of human experimentation.

This style of execution using nitrogen gas to deprive a person of oxygen was first authorized in Alabama in 2018 during a shortage of drugs used to carry out lethal injections, but the state has not employed the technique to carry out a death sentence. Other states like Oklahoma and Mississippi have also permitted nitrogen hypoxia as a method but have not utilized it.

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Kenneth Eugene Smith. Credit: Alabama Department of Corrections.

Smith was one of two men convicted of capital murder for the murder-for-hire killing of Elizabeth. Prosecutors said he was paid $1,000 by Charles Sennett, the pastor of the Westside Church of Christ in Sheffield, Alabama, in 1988, to forcefully take his wife's life, per CBS News.

According to Fox News, the reverend asked the inmate and his friend, John Parker, to carry out the murder as he was in debt and wanted to collect on insurance. In addition to this, Sennett was reportedly having an extramarital affair at the time.

Elizabeth was stabbed over and over again with a six-inch survival knife and suffered a total of ten stab wounds - eight to her chest and two to her neck - which resulted in her death.

The victim's husband took his own life after the murder as investigators began to focus on him as a possible suspect, per court documents obtained by Daily Mail.

At the trial, Smith confessed to being present when the victim was murdered but said he did not take part in the attack. The jury voted by 11-1 to give him a life sentence, but they were overruled by the judge who sent him to death row.

Over three decades later, Alabama’s Department of Corrections prepared to execute Smith with a lethal injection in 2022. However, the inmate ended up spending four hours on the gurney as officials tried unsuccessfully to find a vein.

By the time officials admitted defeat and called off the execution, Smith's body was pierced with puncture holes.

Now, just 14 months later, Smith will be put to death by nitrogen hypoxia on Thursday (January 25). This untested method involves depriving prisoners of oxygen by placing a mask connected to a cylinder of nitrogen over their faces.

State officials have argued that nitrogen gas will quickly induce unconsciousness and subsequent death, however, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights asserted that nitrogen hypoxia could amount to inhuman treatment, and urged for a block, as reported by BBC.

The prisoner's legal team also contended that putting convicts through several execution attempts violates the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution - which protects against "cruel and unusual punishments" inflicted.

However, the justices rejected the appeal on Wednesday (January 24) - which is one day before the planned execution.

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Credit: FrankvandenBergh / Getty

Smith had also made another legal request to the lower 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals where he challenged the legitimacy of Alabama's nitrogen gas protocol.

But that court also denied the inmate's bid for an injunction in a ruling on Wednesday evening, stating: "Smith has failed to show a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of his claims," as cited by CNN.

"Accordingly, his motion for a stay of execution is due to be denied without regard to the other prerequisites for the issuance of the same," they added.

The prisoner's lawyers revealed that they intend to appeal to the Supreme Court again.

Kenneth Eugene Smith is still scheduled to be executed on Thursday (January 25) at around 6PM at William C Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore.

Featured image credit: Matias Nieto / Getty

US Supreme Court refuses to block execution of man using untested method

vt-author-image

By Asiya Ali

Article saved!Article saved!

The US Supreme Court has refused to block a last-minute appeal to stop an Alabama inmate from being executed with a new untested method.

Hitman Kenneth Eugene Smith, sentenced to death in 1988 for the murder of preacher’s wife Elizabeth Sennett, is scheduled to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia on Thursday, January 25.

The death row inmate and his lawyers objected to the method because the state of Alabama might botch the procedure - like they did in November 2022 when they unsuccessfully attempted to execute him with the lethal injection. They also said that there are risks associated with the untested method and claimed that it was the equivalent of human experimentation.

This style of execution using nitrogen gas to deprive a person of oxygen was first authorized in Alabama in 2018 during a shortage of drugs used to carry out lethal injections, but the state has not employed the technique to carry out a death sentence. Other states like Oklahoma and Mississippi have also permitted nitrogen hypoxia as a method but have not utilized it.

wp-image-1263235284 size-full
Kenneth Eugene Smith. Credit: Alabama Department of Corrections.

Smith was one of two men convicted of capital murder for the murder-for-hire killing of Elizabeth. Prosecutors said he was paid $1,000 by Charles Sennett, the pastor of the Westside Church of Christ in Sheffield, Alabama, in 1988, to forcefully take his wife's life, per CBS News.

According to Fox News, the reverend asked the inmate and his friend, John Parker, to carry out the murder as he was in debt and wanted to collect on insurance. In addition to this, Sennett was reportedly having an extramarital affair at the time.

Elizabeth was stabbed over and over again with a six-inch survival knife and suffered a total of ten stab wounds - eight to her chest and two to her neck - which resulted in her death.

The victim's husband took his own life after the murder as investigators began to focus on him as a possible suspect, per court documents obtained by Daily Mail.

At the trial, Smith confessed to being present when the victim was murdered but said he did not take part in the attack. The jury voted by 11-1 to give him a life sentence, but they were overruled by the judge who sent him to death row.

Over three decades later, Alabama’s Department of Corrections prepared to execute Smith with a lethal injection in 2022. However, the inmate ended up spending four hours on the gurney as officials tried unsuccessfully to find a vein.

By the time officials admitted defeat and called off the execution, Smith's body was pierced with puncture holes.

Now, just 14 months later, Smith will be put to death by nitrogen hypoxia on Thursday (January 25). This untested method involves depriving prisoners of oxygen by placing a mask connected to a cylinder of nitrogen over their faces.

State officials have argued that nitrogen gas will quickly induce unconsciousness and subsequent death, however, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights asserted that nitrogen hypoxia could amount to inhuman treatment, and urged for a block, as reported by BBC.

The prisoner's legal team also contended that putting convicts through several execution attempts violates the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution - which protects against "cruel and unusual punishments" inflicted.

However, the justices rejected the appeal on Wednesday (January 24) - which is one day before the planned execution.

wp-image-1263246034 size-full
Credit: FrankvandenBergh / Getty

Smith had also made another legal request to the lower 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals where he challenged the legitimacy of Alabama's nitrogen gas protocol.

But that court also denied the inmate's bid for an injunction in a ruling on Wednesday evening, stating: "Smith has failed to show a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of his claims," as cited by CNN.

"Accordingly, his motion for a stay of execution is due to be denied without regard to the other prerequisites for the issuance of the same," they added.

The prisoner's lawyers revealed that they intend to appeal to the Supreme Court again.

Kenneth Eugene Smith is still scheduled to be executed on Thursday (January 25) at around 6PM at William C Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore.

Featured image credit: Matias Nieto / Getty