ATMORE, Ala. (AP) — A man put to death using nitrogen gas shook and convulsed on the gurney as Alabama carried out the first-of-its-kind execution that once again placed the United States at the forefront of the debate over capital punishment. Mississippi has also approved the method for executions but has not used it yet.
Kenneth Eugene Smith, a 58-year-old convicted killer, was pronounced dead at 8:25 p.m. Thursday at an Alabama prison after breathing the gas through a face mask to cause oxygen deprivation. It marked the first time that a new execution method has been used in the United States since lethal injection, now the most commonly used method, was introduced in 1982.
The execution took about 22 minutes between the opening and closing of the curtains to the viewing room.
Smith appeared to remain conscious for several minutes after the gas started flowing. For at least two minutes, he shook violently and writhed on the gurney, sometimes pulling against the restraints and shaking the gurney with the force of his movements. That was followed by several minutes of heavy breathing, until breathing was no longer perceptible.
“Tonight Alabama causes humanity to take a step backwards,” Smith, who was paid $1,000 to kill an Alabama woman more than 30 years ago, said in a final statement. “I’m leaving with love, peace and light.”
He made the “I love you sign” with his hands toward family members who were witnesses.
“Thank you for supporting me. Love, love all of you,” Smith said.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said the execution was justice for the murder-for-hire killing of 45-year-old Elizabeth Sennett in 1988.
“After more than 30 years and attempt after attempt to game the system, Mr. Smith has answered for his horrendous crimes,” Ivey said in a statement. “I pray that Elizabeth Sennett’s family can receive closure after all these years dealing with that great loss.”
Mike Sennett, the victim’s son, said Thursday night that Smith “had been incarcerated almost twice as long as I knew my mom.”
“Nothing happened here today is going to bring Mom back. It’s kind
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