Minister attending nitrogen gas execution of Alabama prisoner asks state for extra safety precautions


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A spiritual adviser attending the nitrogen gas execution of Alabama hitman Kenneth Smith has written a letter to the state prison system asking it to provide additional safety precautions for bystanders and witnesses.

Smith, now 58, will be the first person in America put to death with nitrogen gas despite the method being authorized in three states. His execution is scheduled for Jan. 25.

Rev. Jeff Hood, who will be near Smith during his execution, has requested that there be oxygen monitors in the death chamber, additional oxygen sources available, ambulances outside the prison on standby and training on available exit routes in case there is a nitrogen leak in the execution chamber.

“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,” Hood’s attorney stated in the letter, which was seen by The Associated Press.


Hood and a correctional officer will be in the execution chamber with Smith when the nitrogen gas system is activated by a warden in an adjoining room. Various witnesses, including attorneys, journalists and people there for Smith’s victim, will watch his execution through windows in other adjoining rooms.

The reverend was required by the state to sign a form acknowledging the “highly unlikely” risks of the method, according to the AP. He also had to agree to stay three feet away from Smith’s gas mask, which will cover his mouth and nose as breathable air is replaced with pure nitrogen.

State protocol says the gas will be administered for at least 15 minutes or for five minutes after a “flatline indication on the EKG.” Alabama has argued the lack of oxygen will cause Smith to die within minutes.

Smith’s attorneys have likened the execution method to human experimentation.


table with restraints

The state argued that the execution method should be allowed to proceed in a court filing on Wednesday despite Smith’s request to block the execution, which will be seen in a federal appeals court on Friday.

In the request, Smith’s attorneys argue that there are too many unknowns with the method and that the state’s protocol violates the ban on cruel and unusual punishment. They also argue that Smith’s due process rights have been violated by the execution being scheduled while he has pending appeals.

Smith was one of two men paid $1,000 to kill Elizabeth Sennett in 1988 on behalf of her preacher husband, who wanted to collect insurance to pay off debt.

He was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in 2022, but it had to be called off after authorities couldn’t connect two intravenous lines.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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