The Alabama Supreme Court ruled that the state can move forward with executing an inmate through the use of nitrogen gas, a method that has never previously been used for an execution, the Associated Press reports. The all-Republican court made its 6-2 decision without comment. The justices granted the state attorney general’s request for an execution warrant for Kenneth Eugene Smith, one of two men convicted in the 1988 murder-for-hire slaying of Elizabeth Sennett in northwestern Alabama. The date of the execution will be set by Gov. Kay Ivey.
The decision moves Alabama closer to becoming the first state to attempt an execution by nitrogen gas, although there will likely be additional legal wrangling over the proposed method. While proponents have theorized it would be painless, opponents liken it to human experimentation. “There are still too many unanswered questions for Alabama officials to responsibly move forward with this protocol,” said Robin Maher of the Death Penalty Information Center. The state tried but failed to execute Smith by lethal injection last year. Smith’s attorneys had asked the state Supreme Court to reject the nitrogen hypoxia execution request, saying Smith should not be a ”test subject” for an untried execution method. The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama on Thursday asked the governor to block the execution, saying the state has a history of problematic lethal injections and is now attempting “to experiment on incarcerated people with nitrogen gas.”