Alabama Set to Use Untested Nitrogen Gas for Execution

In January 2024, Alabama will try to execute Kenneth “Kenny” Eugene Smith for a second time. The state’s first attempt failed after corrections officials spent hours working unsuccessfully to set an intravenous line for his lethal injection. The execution warrant expired before they found a vein.

On January 25, the state plans to use the untested method of nitrogen asphyxiation in a second attempt to execute Kenny. 

Nitrogen asphyxiation, or death by nitrogen hypoxia, is a process in which an individual is fitted with a mask and forced to breathe pure nitrogen gas. Without oxygen flowing through the airways, the body will be slowly deprived of this element which is necessary for all tissue functions, and the person will die.

This method has never before been used in an execution in the U.S. Alabama is the only state which currently has a nitrogen asphyxiation execution protocol, which was released in a heavily redacted court filing this August. The limited information made visible to the public has raised questions about the risk of potential gas leaks and accidental gas exposure to corrections personnel and spiritual advisors who would be proximate to the execution.

Alabama, like many other states, has recently struggled to obtain lethal injection drugs after pharmaceutical companies have refused to sell their products for the purpose of executions. Nitrogen gas is much more readily available, which prompted Alabama to pursue this method of execution.

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