Alabama Wants to Be First With a Nitrogen Execution (Newser)

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    Alabama Wants to Be First With a Nitrogen Execution – By Newser Editors and Wire Services (Newser) / Aug 27, 2023

    State seeks permission to use the method critics call experimental

    Alabama is seeking to become the first state to execute a prisoner by making him breathe pure nitrogen. The Alabama attorney general’s office has asked the state Supreme Court to set an execution date for death row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, per the AP. The court filing indicated Alabama plans to put him to death by nitrogen hypoxia, an execution method that is authorized in three states but has never been used. Nitrogen hypoxia is caused by forcing the inmate to breathe only nitrogen, depriving them of oxygen and causing them to die. Nitrogen makes up 78% of the air inhaled by humans and is harmless when inhaled with oxygen. While proponents of the new method have theorized it would be painless, opponents have likened it to human experimentation.

    Alabama authorized nitrogen hypoxia in 2018 amid a shortage of drugs used to carry out lethal injections, but the state has not attempted to use it until now to carry out a death sentence. Oklahoma and Mississippi have also authorized nitrogen hypoxia, but have not used it. The disclosure that Alabama is ready to use nitrogen hypoxia is expected to set off a new round of legal battles over the constitutionality of the method. The Equal Justice Initiative, a legal advocacy group that has worked on death penalty issues, said Alabama has a history of “failed and flawed executions and execution attempts” and “experimenting with a never before used method is a terrible idea.”

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