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Supreme Court Sides With Alabama Inmate Over Nitrogen Execution

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday sided with an Alabama death row inmate, who had his lethal injection called off at the last minute in November. Kenneth Eugene Smith argues he should be put to death by nitrogen hypoxia when he is executed, reports the Associated Press. The justices without comment rejected the Alabama attorney general’s request to review an 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision. The state argued that the decision disregarded Supreme Court precedent that an inmate challenging an execution method must show that an alternative method is readily available, not just feasible. Alabama has authorized nitrogen hypoxia — death as a result of breathing pure nitrogen — as an execution method, but no state has attempted to use the untested method.

Smith was scheduled to die by lethal injection on Nov. 17, 2022, for the 1988 murder-for-hire slaying of a preacher’s wife. That day, a divided 11th Circuit panel stayed the execution after Smith raised concerns about previous lethal injections in the state and suggested nitrogen hypoxia as an available alternative method. The Supreme Court disagreed and lifted the stay. However, prison officials ended up calling off Smith’s execution for the night after staff were unable to find a suitable vein to connect the second of two intravenous lines to Smith’s body. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced a pause in executions to conduct an internal review of procedures. The review came after problems with intravenous lines caused multiple executions to be canceled or delayed. The state is seeking to resume executions this summer.


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