Death row inmate speaks out on untested nitrogen gas execution

Kenneth Eugene Smith scheduled to be put to death with nitrogen gas on Thursday

Michelle Del Rey
Wednesday 24 January 2024 00:18 GMT
Related video: UN raises alert over US nitrogen-gas execution, says it could be torture

Alabama death row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith says he is not prepared to become the first person ever put to death by nitrogen gas.

Smith, 58, told The Guardian he has now been moved to the “death cell” in an Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) facility ahead of his Thursday execution, but that he is not ready to be executed using the untested method.

Smith’s attorneys have filed a request with the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals to stop the execution because the nitrogen gas method carries the risk of prolonged death and suffering.

Additionally, his attorneys have asked the US Supreme Court to review whether the execution will violate the US Constitution. Officials previously tried to execute Smith in 2022 but failed after they were not able to insert IV lines into his system.

Now, his attorneys argue that the state might not have the right to try and put him to death a second time.

“It is uncontroverted that ADOC inflicted actual physical and psychological pain on Smith by repeatedly trying (and failing) to establish IV access through his arms, hands, and by a central line as he was strapped to a gurney for hours,” the filing said.

“Mr Smith’s was the third consecutive execution that ADOC botched or aborted for that same reason. ADOC’s failed attempt to execute Mr Smith caused him severe physical pain and psychological torment, including posttraumatic stress disorder.”

Smith said he’s not ready to be put to death with an untested treatment, given how a botched first execution attempt went.

“I am not ready for that. Not in no kind of way. I’m just not ready, brother,” Smith told the newspaper. He admitted that he’s had a recurring nightmare since the first execution attempt of being escorted back into the death chamber.

“All I had to do was walk into the room in the dream for it to be overwhelming. I was absolutely terrified,” he said. “It kept coming up.”

Discussing his upcoming execution date, he said he has dreams that “they’re coming to get me.” He currently spends most of his days being “sick in his stomach” and frequently suffers from nausea and stress.

“They haven’t given me a chance to heal,” Smith said. “I’m still suffering from the first execution and now we’re doing this again. They won’t let me even have post-traumatic stress disorder — you know, this is ongoing stress disorder.”

The inmate then presented a scenario in which a victim of abuse was forced back into an abusive situation, explaining that that’s how the new execution attempt makes him feel.

“A person who did that would probably be seen as a monster,” he said. “But when the government does it, you know, that’s something else.”

In April 1996, Smith was convicted of capital murder for his role in the death of 45-year-old Elizabeth Sennett, a pastor’s wife in Colbert County. Officials discovered that she’d been stabbed multiple times inside her home.

Smith was part of a two-person murder-for-hire scheme, which appeared to be put together by the woman’s husband. The jury voted 11 to 1 to put Smith away for life. However, the judge presiding over the case overrode the jury’s verdict and sentenced him to death.

Speaking of the crime, he said he wishes he “had done things differently.”

He added: “One second, one moment in a man’s life and that’s been the only incident — I’ve not had any incident with officers, not a single fight with inmates, in 35 years. Violence is not who I am.

“I’ve been in prison for 35 years, how have I not been punished,” he continued. “Thirty-five years. I have not gone unpunished for 35 years. I have suffered doing this. So has my family.”

The Independent and the non-profit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to its Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty – with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high-profile executives such as Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are making a pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.

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