Top US court refuses to block nitrogen gas execution

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Kenneth Eugene Smith faces execution over a 1988 murder
By Brandon Drenon
BBC News, Washington

The US Supreme Court will not block Alabama from executing Kenneth Eugene Smith with nitrogen gas, a method never used before for capital punishment.

Smith had asked the court to intervene, saying that the execution was cruel and unusual punishment.

The execution, where toxic nitrogen will be pumped into his body through a mask, is planned for Thursday.

Alabama already tried to execute Smith by lethal injection two years ago for his 1989 murder conviction.

His scheduled execution could still be delayed while judges in the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals consider a separate case Smith filed.

The three-judge panel heard arguments last Friday, but did not indicate when it would issue a ruling.

Smith’s lawyers had filed the appeal with the lower court citing “untested methods”.

Smith would be the first person in the US to face nitrogen gassing.

The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights has said the never-before-used method could amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and called for a halt.

In November 2022, Alabama executioners tried to inject Smith with a lethal blend of chemicals but failed.

They were unable to raise a vein before the state’s death warrant expired at midnight. His lawyers say that the constitution forbids putting convicts through multiple execution attempts under its prohibition against “cruel and unusual” punishment.

Smith was one of two men convicted in 1989 of murdering a preacher’s wife, Elizabeth Sennett, who was stabbed and beaten to death in a $1,000 (£786) killing-for-hire.

At his trial he admitted to being present when the victim was killed, but says he did not take part in the attack.

Smith’s partner-in-crime, John Forrest Parker, was executed in 2010.

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