nitrogen mask

Death Row Inmate Set To Become First To Be Executed By Controversial New Method

The death penalty debate has been pivotal in criminal justice and ethics for decades. One recent development that has sparked significant controversy is the use of nitrogen hypoxia as a method of execution. The state of Alabama has requested that Kenneth Eugene Smith be the first death row inmate to be executed through nitrogen hypoxia. This new method is highly controversial, with some saying it’s more humane than lethal injection and others saying the opposite.

Understanding Nitrogen Hypoxia

Nitrogen hypoxia, also known as inert gas asphyxiation, is a method of execution that involves replacing the oxygen in the body with an inert gas to induce hypoxia and ultimately lead to death. In this case, that gas is nitrogen. When a person breathes a gas without oxygen, their body is deprived of oxygen, leading to unconsciousness and eventually death. Nitrogen hypoxia is said to be a painless and humane method of execution, as the individual loses consciousness without experiencing any distress or suffering. (1, 2)

Kenneth Eugene Smith: His Crimes and Death Row Sentence

Kenneth Eugene Smith is a death row inmate in Alabama who was convicted of murder. In 1988, Alabama pastor Charles Sennet hired Billy Gray Williams to kill his wife, Elizabeth Sennet. His reason was that he wanted to collect her life insurance to settle some debts. Williams then hired Smith and another man to carry out the murder. The jury found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and requested life in prison without parole. However, the judge overruled the sentencing and gave Smith the death penalty. His date was set for November 17, 2022.

Request for Nitrogen Hypoxia Execution

Reports suggest that Smith has allegedly requested nitrogen hypoxia as his preferred method of execution, citing a previously failed lethal injection attempt. On his actual injection date, corrections officers could not complete the execution before the death warrant expired due to problems inserting an IV into Smith’s veins. The Supreme Court then granted the state to use the nitrogen hypoxia method for the next set date.

The Controversy Surrounding Nitrogen Hypoxia

Nitrogen hypoxia has garnered significant controversy due to various ethical, legal, and practical concerns. One of the primary concerns is whether nitrogen hypoxia constitutes a humane method of execution. Proponents argue that the process results in a peaceful death without causing undue suffering. Proponents, however, question the certainty of its efficacy and whether it violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Another critical point of contention is the lack of extensive research and testing on the effects of nitrogen hypoxia on humans. Critics argue that the scientific community has not adequately studied this method, leading to uncertainties regarding its reliability and potential risks. These risks include the safety for those who are administering it. Additionally, concerns have been raised regarding the transparency and accountability of states implementing nitrogen hypoxia as a new execution method.

Although Alabama will be the first state to use nitrogen hypoxia as a method of execution, a couple of other states have made it legal. Oklahoma approved nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative execution method in 2015, and Mississippi followed suit in 2018. However, there have been no recorded instances of nitrogen hypoxia executions in either of these states.

Still Set To Be Executed

The impending execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith by nitrogen hypoxia in Alabama has brought attention to the highly controversial topic of execution methods. As the ethical and legal debates continue, it is crucial to assess the humanity, efficacy, and potential risks associated with nitrogen hypoxia and other alternative methods of execution. The case of Kenneth Eugene Smith serves as a catalyst for a broader discussion on the death penalty and the ways in which society views and carries out swift and humane justice.

Keep Reading: Alabama prisoner subjected to ‘three hours of pain’ in possible longest recorded execution in US


  1. Alabama requests a date to execute an inmate via nitrogen hypoxia for the first time.” NPR. Ayana Archie. August 29, 2023.
  2. New Execution Method Touted as More ‘Humane,’ but Evidence Is Lacking.” Scientific American. Dana G. Smith. September 23, 2022