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Alabama carries out first nitrogen gas execution

Mike Sennett, Elizabeth Sennett’s son, speaks after her murderer’s execution. Associated Press/Photo by Kim Chandler

Alabama carries out first nitrogen gas execution

Kenneth Eugene Smith shook and convulsed on the gurney before he lay still and stopped breathing on Thursday evening. He was executed by nitrogen gas in a prison in Atmore, Ala., more than 30 years after being sentenced to death for murder. The new execution method involves strapping the prisoner down and placing a full face mask on him that supplies nitrogen gas until he dies of hypoxia. The process took less than 15 minutes, according to corrections officials who said Smith’s shaking on the gurney appeared to be involuntary. His lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court to stop the execution because it could constitute cruel and unusual punishment, but a majority of justices declined to intervene.

Why was Smith executed? He was sentenced to death in the 1988 murder of 45-year-old Elizabeth Sennett. She was a pastor’s wife whose husband was involved in an affair and paid several men $1,000 each to plan and carry out his wife’s killing. Sennett was stabbed and beaten to death in what was staged to look like a home invasion. Former Sheriff Ronnie May described to Alabama.com how Sennett’s husband later committed suicide after admitting what he had done. Sennett’s son said Thursday that Smith “had been incarcerated almost twice as long as I knew my mom” and that justice had been served.

Lynde Langdon

Lynde is WORLD’s executive editor for news. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, the Missouri School of Journalism, and the University of Missouri–St. Louis. Lynde resides with her family in Wichita, Kan.


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