WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a last-minute request to stay the execution of an Alabama death row inmate, brought him one step closer to death using an untested method: nitrogen gas.
Kenneth Smith, who was sentenced to death for the 1988 murder of Elizabeth Sennett, challenged the execution by nitrogen hypoxia on the grounds that the state could violate the procedure. He argued that this would violate his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.
He is scheduled to be executed on Thursday.
Smith still has a separate lawsuit in federal court that could lead to an overturn.
The summary judgment simply stated that Smith’s petition was denied. Neither judge publicly objected.
Smith’s lawyers said that nitrogen hypoxia has never been used to execute anyone in the United States. The last time a prisoner was executed in any form lethal gas The death penalty was in 1999, according to the data center.
Supreme Court in May last year was rejected Attempt to kill Smith by lethal injection.
Smith argued that the state’s previous efforts to execute him in November 2022 raised questions about his ability to effectively use the new method. Then officials halted the execution after struggling to insert an intravenous line before the death row expired at midnight.
His lawyers argued that the new attempt would be “cruelly deliberate” and would amount to actual torture.
If Alabama is allowed to proceed with the execution, it would be “the second time in U.S. history that a state has attempted a second execution after a previous failed attempt,” they said in their emergency filing.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall noted in court documents that when he persuaded the Supreme Court last year not to allow the planned execution to go ahead, Smith said he would prefer to be executed by lethal gas.
“Such claims cannot be a basis for comfort now — after Smith successfully litigated the manner of execution he would receive,” Marshall wrote.
Smith lost in Alabama state courts, including the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. The Alabama Supreme Court then refused to hear his case, and Smith appealed to the US Supreme Court.
Nitrogen hypoxia causes death by depriving the person of oxygen by forcing the prisoner to breathe only nitrogen. of the state execution protocol He says that a mask will be put on the prisoner’s face and nitrogen gas will be given to him until he dies.
Two other states, Oklahoma and Mississippi, have also approved the use of nitrogen hypoxia. The few states that routinely execute people generally use the lethal injection procedure, but face difficulties in obtaining the necessary drugs.
Smith’s attorneys and death penalty opponents have said there are risks to using the method, including the possibility that Smith could end up in a vegetative state or choke on his own vomit. Some also raised the possibility of danger to others in the execution chamber gas leak.
The Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, is generally skeptical of last-minute stay requests by death row inmates and has also made it harder for inmates to challenge the execution method.
In 2019, a Missouri court ruled against a convicted murderer who wanted to die by lethal gas instead of lethal injection because of a rare medical condition, saying inmates are not guaranteed. “painless death.”
Supporters of the death penalty criticized lawyers who filed last-minute lawsuits to delay executions. During oral argument in the 2015 case, Justice Samuel Alito called it a “guerrilla war against the death penalty.”