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 November 2, 2023

Supreme Court approves using nitrogen gas for inmates execution

The Alabama Supreme Court has authorized the execution of inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith using nitrogen gas, marking a first in the United States.

Imagine sitting on death row for decades, and then one day you're told your execution will be something never before tried in history. That’s what’s happening in Alabama. The state’s Supreme Court just gave the green light to execute a man using a method that’s stirred up quite the debate and a whole lot of legal wrangling.
The case in question involves Kenneth Eugene Smith, whose name has been bouncing around courtrooms for quite some time now. Smith was one of two men convicted for a murder-for-hire plot that left Elizabeth Sennett dead back in 1988.

Now, after a botched attempt at lethal injection last year, Alabama is looking to make him the first person in the U.S. to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia.

A new method on the horizon

Alabama's high court has stood firm on its decision with a 6-2 vote. They’re not specifying when it's going to happen or giving us a lot of detail on the how. But the Attorney General’s office is clear on the 'what' – it’s going to be nitrogen gas if they have their way.

Here’s where it gets tricky though. Smith’s lawyers are not happy. They say he’s being pushed to the front of the line for a nitrogen execution to sidestep his lawsuit over lethal injection practices.

They’re worried Alabama’s making their client a guinea pig for a method that’s never been tested on humans for executions.

The long wait for justice

Smith’s involvement in the killing of Elizabeth Sennett was for a mere $1,000. Sennett was killed in a scheme concocted by her husband, who was eyeing the insurance money to escape his financial woes.

The plot was a shock to their small Alabama community, especially when her husband took his own life shortly after the murder, Yahoo reported.

While Smith’s co-conspirator has already been executed, Smith’s fate has been a legal tug-of-war. It’s been 35 years since the crime, and Elizabeth Sennett’s family is still waiting for closure. It raises the question: How long is too long for justice to be served?

The debate over a humane death

Now, supporters of the nitrogen method claim it’s painless. The idea is that breathing in pure nitrogen would knock you out and you'd simply never wake up. But opponents, they’re shouting from the rooftops that it’s akin to human experimentation.

And these aren’t just hypothetical arguments – the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama is actively calling for the Governor and Attorney General to halt this plan.

The state of Alabama paused its executions last year due to several botched lethal injections. The ACLU has been critical of the state for not reviewing these issues thoroughly before jumping back into executions – especially with a brand new method.

And it’s not just the ACLU waving red flags. The U.S. Supreme Court previously sided with Smith against the lethal injection execution, pointing out that Alabama had approved nitrogen gas but hadn't ironed out the details. This feels a bit like building the plane while flying it, doesn’t it?

Legal hurdles and ethical questions

Smith’s attorneys expressed disappointment in the decision and made it clear they would continue fighting for his rights in the courts. Their main argument? Smith shouldn’t be the test case for an execution method that no one's ever tried before.

Alabama's Supreme Court seems to have a different view, as evident from their recent ruling, as reported by Fox News.

hief Justice Tom Parker and Justice Greg Cook, however, were not on board with this decision, showcasing that even within the highest levels of the state judiciary, there’s dissent on this controversial issue.

Uncertainty clouds the path forward

The exact date when Kenneth Eugene Smith will face this unprecedented execution method is still up in the air. The ruling doesn't pin down a day on the calendar, leaving a cloud of uncertainty not just over Smith, but over the entire death penalty protocol in the state.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma and Mississippi are sitting in the same boat as Alabama, having authorized nitrogen hypoxia but not yet taking the plunge. With Alabama at the forefront, the outcome of Smith’s case could set a precedent, whether it sails smoothly or capsizes.

There’s a lot riding on this. It's not just about one man or one state; it's about how the U.S. as a whole deals with the death penalty. It's a thorny debate, loaded with moral, legal, and ethical dilemmas that don't have easy answers.

Lessons to learn from this tragedy

As this saga unfolds, there’s a lot we can take away from the tragic story of Elizabeth Sennett’s murder and the ensuing legal battles.

  • Always stay informed about the law: Laws and legal processes can change, as we see with Alabama’s shifting stance on execution methods. It’s vital to know what the state can and cannot do.
  • Understand the long-term impact of crime: The aftermath of a crime lasts for years, impacting families and entire communities. It’s more than just the immediate loss; it’s a lingering shadow.
  • The justice system is complex: From appeals to changing execution methods, the path to carrying out a sentence is rarely straightforward.
  • Speak up for what you believe: The ACLU’s involvement shows the power of advocacy groups in challenging state decisions and proposing reforms.

Why this story matters

And let’s not forget, at the heart of this, a family lost a loved one. It's been a grueling 35 years for the Sennetts. Their pain underscores that, above all, human life is at the center of this debate.

Whether you’re for or against the death penalty, we all can agree that ensuring the system is just and humane is paramount.

We should always remember that no set of legal procedures can ever replace the human elements of compassion, dignity, and the quest for genuine justice.

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Written By: Rampart Stonebridge

I'm Rampart Stonebridge, a curious and passionate writer who can't get enough of true crime. As a criminal investigative journalist, I put on my detective hat, delving deep into each case to reveal the hidden truths. My mission? To share engaging stories and shed light on the complexities of our mysterious world, all while satisfying your curiosity about the intriguing realm of true crime.
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