A killer who was due to be put to death a year ago is in the unique position of being able to explain what it feels like to be executed – because he survived the lethal injection attempt.
Kenneth Smith suffered excruciating pain in the attempt last November after spending a third of a century on Death Row in the United States. The convicted murderer had been taken from his cell to the execution chamber at the jail in Atmore, Alabama. But hours later he was still alive as the prison staff completely cocked up their attempts at administering a fatal dose.
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Speaking to the Daily Mail nearly 12 months later from his cell, where he’s waiting for the next execution attempt, Smith, 58, described his pain as staff struggled and failed to attach two IV lines to him, before they ran out of time to kill him when the death warrant expired.
In the US, the “double jeopardy” rule means you can’t be tried twice for the same crime – but there’s no such ban on the authorities trying to execute someone more than once, so Smith is going through a lengthy appeals process to prevent the state attempting to kill him all over again.
He’s currently lined up to be executed in January via a method that hasn’t been attempted before. The authorities want him to breathe in pure nitrogen until he suffocates.
But his legal team are fighting that plan, claiming that it would constitute a “cruel and unusual punishment” – something that is not allowed under the US constitution. They argue that it’s unclear whether being killed via the process called “nitrogen hypoxia” is painless, and they reckon Smith is being used as a human guinea pig.
His legal team is also claiming that his horrible ordeal last year when the executioners completely mucked up their attempts at killing him also constitutes cruelty.
Looking back at that awful day, Smith told the Mail: “I’ve tried to keep it out of my mind for the past year but I've been reliving this s**t for the past week.
“I’ve been sick to my stomach and not eaten. And I’ve been struggling with depression and nightmares – I’m in pretty bad shape.”
In a weird twist that might help his appeal not to be executed a second time, Smith also recounted a conversation he had with one of last year’s executioners.
He said: “He was trying to comfort me and we got into this bizarre conversation. He said: ‘Oh, you know, man, if you got to go, this is the way to go.’ Lethal injection, he said, is painless. And he said that gas is suffocation and that nobody knows what is going to happen. I've not been able to get that out of my head.”
Back in 1988, the dad-of-four – who was then 22 – admitted murdering Elizabeth Sennett, 45. He and a bloke called John Parker were paid the equivalent of £800 each by her hubby Charles, a pastor who was having an affair with another woman, to kill her so he could collect insurance money.
During last year’s shambles, Smith recalls that at one point one of the executioners shouted at him: “You can’t feel that,” convinced he had been successfully anaesthetised.
The prisoner added: “I kept telling them, ‘Call the f***ing judge. My case number is 2:22-CV-497. Somebody in this f***ing room call the judge or my lawyer.’ But nobody did.”
And the repeated attempts to jab him eventually became a farce – with one of the men even asking the prisoner to squeeze his hand to help them find a vein.
“I am f***ed if I am going to participate in my own execution,” he said recently.
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