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‘Walking into a house of horrors’: Kenneth Smith’s spiritual adviser ‘terrified’ of nitrogen gas execution

‘It needs to be perfectly clear to the world that this is terrifying,’ Smith’s spiritual adviser Jeff Hood tells The Independent

Bevan Hurley
Thursday 25 January 2024 17:35 GMT
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Alabama set to execute inmate with nitrogen gas, a never-before-used method

The religious adviser of Kenneth Eugene Smith says the condemned inmate is “remaining strong” ahead of his planned execution by nitrogen gas on Thursday.

Dr Jeff Hood told The Independent in an interview before heading to William C Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama, that Smith’s support team were “clinging to one another” for solace, after last-ditch appeals to halt the execution were rejected.

Dr Hood will be present in the prison’s execution chamber when the fatal dose of pure nitrogen gas is delivered to Smith via a strap-on mask after successfully suing the state of Alabama for allegedly violating the inmate’s religious liberty.

He said he plans to anoint Smith with oil and share the Holy Eucharist with him, and place his hands on the death row prisoner’s feet while praying and reading scripture during the execution.

Dr Hood, who has attended four executions in the past year, acknowledged that the prospect of being in the chamber when the nitrogen gas is administered frightens him.

“It feels like we’re walking into a house of horrors, we just don’t know what’s coming,” he told The Independent.

Reverend Jeff Hood, left, attended the execution of Alabama death row prisoner Casey McWhorter in November (Jeff Hood)

“We don’t know when the floor is going to shake, when the doors are going to rattle. It’s terrifying.”

Asked how Smith was faring just hours ahead of the execution, Dr Hood said: “I think that Kenny is remaining strong, that he’s pushing ahead, and I’m incredibly proud of him.

“I think for us it’s simply a matter of clinging to each other. That’s one of the things that he’s been saying that we’re going to go through this together, we’re going to cling to each other, and certainly that’s what I intend to do.”

Dr Hood and other death penalty advocates have strongly criticised Alabama for attempting to use an unproven method after the state botched several previous executions.

A previous attempt to execute Smith by lethal injection in 2022 for his role in the 1988 murder-for-hire slaying of Elizabeth Sennett was called off after officials “jabbed him in his arms and hands” for hours in an unsuccessful effort to access his veins.

Smith will be put to death by nitrogen gas on Thursday (AP)

“These people simply do not know what they are doing. It needs to be perfectly clear to the world that this is terrifying,” Dr Hood told The Independent.

“These are people who have botched three executions in recent years. They’ve proven themselves to be the most incompetent execution squad in the country.

“We’re expecting the most incompetent execution squad in the country to be the execution squad that successfully performs the first nitrogen hypoxia execution. It’s absolutely absurd.”

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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