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Judge OK's Alabama Plan To Execute Inmate With Nitrogen

Alabama is on track to become the first state to execute an inmate with nitrogen gas after a federal judge denied a request to stop the procedure, which a top international human rights group called "alarming" and "inhuman." U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker granted the state permission to execute Kenneth Eugene Smith with the new method. The state plans to put a respirator-type face mask over his nose and mouth to replace breathable air with nitrogen, causing him to die from lack of oxygen. Smith, 58, previously survived an execution attempt by lethal injection in 2022. The Alabama Department of Corrections stopped it when authorities couldn’t connect two intravenous lines. He would be the first inmate to die by nitrogen gas in the nation if the state moves forward.

Three states — Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahoma — have authorized nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method but none have used it. Gov. Kay Ivey has announced a Jan. 25 execution date. Huffaker said there are theoretical risks of pain and suffering under Alabama’s execution protocol but those risks don't rise to an unconstitutional violation. "Smith is not guaranteed a painless death," he said. The question of whether the execution can proceed could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. Nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method

Nitrogen makes up 78% of the air inhaled by humans and is harmless when inhaled with proper levels of oxygen. Alabama officials have not commented on whether condemned inmates using the nitrogen gas system would be sedated before the gas is administered.


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