United States

Alabama Hails Nitrogen Gas Execution, a New Attempt to Address an Old Challenge

Author: Shaila Dewan Source: N.Y Times
January 26, 2024 at 07:41
W.C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Ala.Credit...Jeff Haller for The New York Times
W.C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Ala.Credit...Jeff Haller for The New York Times

Fending off doubts and criticisms, Alabama’s attorney general hailed a new execution method as “humane and effective.”

For as long as America has had the death penalty, there have been questions about how best to carry it out. The execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith in Alabama on Thursday, the first American execution in which death was caused by suffocation with nitrogen gas, gave no indication of settling the legal, moral and technical questions that have long bedeviled states as they mete out the ultimate punishment.

Most recently, problems with the purchasing, administration and effects of lethal injection drugs have sent states scrambling for alternatives ranging from the old — firing squads, electric chairs and gas chambers — to the untested, like Alabama’s use of a mask to force Mr. Smith to inhale nitrogen instead of air.

But after Mr. Smith’s death, the Alabama attorney general, Steve Marshall, hailed the execution as a “historic” breakthrough. He criticized opponents of the death penalty for pressuring “anyone assisting states in the process.”

“They don’t care that Alabama’s new method is humane and effective, because they know it is also easy to carry out,” he said in a statement.

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