Ala. releases execution by nitrogen hypoxia protocol
According to the protocol "Nitrogen gas will be administered for 15 minutes, or five minutes following a flatline indication on the EKG, whichever is longer"
By Mike Cason
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama for the first time has released a protocol describing how it plans to carry out executions by nitrogen hypoxia.
Attorney General Steve Marshall on Friday asked the Alabama Supreme Court to set a date to execute Kenneth Eugene Smith by nitrogen hypoxia, which would be the first nitrogen execution done by any state.
The Legislature passed a bill in 2018 authorizing executions by nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative to lethal injection. The concept is that the inmate would die from oxygen deprivation by breathing only nitrogen, but the method has never been used by any state.
Marshall’s office has said previously the Alabama Department of Corrections has been working on the method and was close to finishing a protocol. But the state had not released any description of how it would work until Friday.
The protocol, with some redactions, is attached to a motion Marshall filed in federal court asking to have Smith’s lawsuit dismissed. The state tried to execute Smith by lethal injection in November but called off the procedure because the execution team could not access his veins.
According to the protocol:
- The condemned inmate will be escorted to the execution chamber and placed on a gurney. A pulse oximeter will be secured on the inmate.
- The execution team will place and adjust a mask on the inmate’s face. One team member will monitor the pulse oximeter while the execution team captain verifies that the mask is properly placed.
- The inmate’s spiritual advisor, if there is one, will be escorted to the execution chamber to carry out any previously approved written plan.
- The warden will order the curtains to the witness rooms opened after verifying there are no last-minute stays.
- The warden will read the execution warrant.
- The inmate will be allowed up to two minutes to make a final statement. The warden and assistant warden will leave the execution chamber.
- The warden will make a final check with the commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections that there are no last-minute stays.
- The execution team will conduct a final inspection of the mask.
- The warden will activate the nitrogen hypoxia system.
- Nitrogen gas will be administered for 15 minutes, or five minutes following a flatline indication on the EKG, whichever is longer.
- Once the execution is carried out, the execution team captain will be notified via radio and will close the curtains.
- The spiritual advisor, if any, will be escorted from the chamber.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Oklahoma authorized nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative to lethal injection in 2015, and several other states followed. But none had announced a protocol as of May 2022, the DPIC said.
Smith was twice convicted by juries and sentenced to death for the murder-for-hire of Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett, a pastor’s wife from Colbert County, in 1988. Court records showed that Smith and John Forrest Parker punched, beat, and stabbed Sennett to death in expectation of a $1,000 payment from Sennett’s husband. Parker was executed in 2010.