A murderer is set to face an untested nitrogen gas execution that could cause an "agonising death".
An execution warrant for Kenneth Eugene Smith was granted to the state attorney general by Alabama's highest court, on Wednesday. The death row inmate, convicted in the 1988 murder-for-hire slaying of Elizabeth Sennett in northwestern Alabama, US, could be put to death using nitrogen gas.
Although the order did not specify the execution method, the attorney general indicated in court filings that it intended to use the gas. The technique is supposed to work by depriving the subject of oxygen, and ultimately causing death by suffocation.
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While the exact date of the execution is yet to be set, the move greenlights attempts to execute Smith in the new manner.
However, human rights advocates have blasted the Supreme Court's decision to execute with the cruel untested method deemed to be "botched".
The state has previously tried to execute Smith by lethal injection last year, but it was called off after four hours of torturing him inside the death chamber because the execution team could not get the required two intravenous lines connected to Smith.
While some believe the nitrogen method would be effective and painless, human rights organisations have rallied against the technique, likening it to human experimentation.
Lawyer and advocate Maya Foa, Joint Executive Director at Reprieve, an organisation fighting human rights abuses, said the decision didn't surprise them.
Speaking to The Mirror she said she wasn't surprised by the Alabama Supreme Court's decision which she said had a "long history of allowing the state to conduct executions which amount to human experimentation".
Foa said: "Secrecy, the rush to carry out executions, and the use of illicit and poor quality drugs has caused scores of botched lethal injection executions in states across the USA. Execution by nitrogen gas promises to do the same."
Kenneth Smith's lawyer, Robert Grass, pointed out that the decision was not unanimous and said there is hope for the court to realise that the plan is unjust.
Grass told The Mirror: "Like the eleven jurors who did not believe Mr Smith should be executed, we remain hopeful that those who review this case will see that a second attempt to execute Mr Smith – this time with an experimental, never-before-used method and with a protocol that has never been fully disclosed to him or his counsel – is unwarranted and unjust."
Horrific details of what an execution with "nitrogen hypoxia" could be like have emerged as experts denounce the "agonising" death the untested method could cause.
Hypoxia, meaning a lack of oxygen, occurs when a person's body is deprived of oxygen. In the execution, this would be attempted by providing nitrogen through a mask.
Maya Foa, the joint executive director of NGO Reprieve, told The Mirror there are a number of ways the untested method could go wrong including thrashing around and displacing their mask to draw out their death, or vomiting and choking to death.
Ms Foa went on to denounce Alabama's attempt to legitimize such a precarious method.
She said: "Alabama continues to carry out grotesque human experiments on its death row prisoners. Last year three executions in the state went catastrophically wrong, leading to men being tortured extensively in the death chamber – including the longest recorded execution in US history."
And she concluded: "Yet instead of acknowledging that it is not possible to execute anyone in a humane manner, the state is aggressively trying to use Kenny Smith as a guinea pig."
The use of nitrogen gas for executions has been authorized in Alabama, Oklahoma, and Mississippi, but no state has executed a prisoner using this method.
Alabama approved 'nitrogen hypoxia' as an alternative execution method in 2018 amid difficulties in obtaining lethal injection drugs and ongoing legal challenges to the humaneness of lethal injection.
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