Death penalty effective with nitrogen gas takes 22 minutes, Kenneth Smith executed

Kenneth Smith

The use of nitrogen gas for capital punishment has been approved in three states in the United States so far, namely Alabama, Oklahoma, and Mississippi. Last Thursday, in Alabama’s Holman Correctional Facility, Kenneth Smith became the first person to be executed using nitrogen hypoxia. This marked the first instance of such execution method in the United States.

During Smith’s execution, it took approximately 22 minutes for the penalty to take effect. Smith was conscious for a few minutes after the nitrogen gas was administered. He blinked and gulped air for two to four minutes before becoming motionless. Observers noted that Smith’s execution appeared to be effective.

The process involves fitting the condemned person with a respiratory mask that supplies only nitrogen gas, depriving them of oxygen. Oxygen is essential for normal bodily functions, and its absence induces hypoxia, leading to death.

Five journalists were allowed to witness Smith’s execution from an adjacent room with a clear view of the process. They reported that Smith said a few words before the nitrogen gas supply began. He said, “Tonight, Alabama took a step forward in humanity.”

Smith’s wife and other relatives were present at the scene. Addressing them, Smith said, “With love, peace, and light, I leave this world. Love to all of you.”

Human rights advocates criticized the use of such methods for capital punishment. Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva, called for the cancellation of Smith’s execution by nitrogen gas, labeling it an “untested” method.

Even Smith’s lawyers had expressed concerns in court that the mask might not fit properly, potentially allowing some oxygen to mix with the nitrogen. They feared this could prolong the process and cause suffering for their client.

However, Alabama authorities defended the use of nitrogen gas for executions, claiming it to be the most humane and painless method of capital punishment known to date.

While nitrogen gas has not been previously used for human executions in the United States, it has occasionally been employed to euthanize animals. Veterinarians have recommended its use as a euthanasia agent for larger animals due to its relatively painless nature.