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USA: Alabama makes history with first nitrogen gas execution

Eyewitnesses recount the unprecedented event, witnessing visible convulsions and shaking during the process.


In a historic move, Alabama carried out the execution of convicted murderer Kenneth Eugene Smith, making it the first state to use nitrogen gas for an execution. Smith, 58, was declared dead at 8:25 p.m. Thursday after a process that involved visible convulsions and shaking.

Execution details:

- 7:53 p.m.: Smith, wearing a full-face mask, interacted with witnesses and made signs of love and OK.
- 7:55 p.m.: Allowed to make a final statement, muffled by the mask, Smith thanked supporters.
- 7:56 p.m.: Spiritual adviser and Smith prayed.
- 7:57 p.m.: Staff checked the mask seal, and nitrogen gas began flowing.
- 7:57 to 8:01 p.m.: Smith convulsed and writhed, seemingly conscious.
- 8:02 p.m.: Smith appeared to lose consciousness, followed by visible gasps.
- 8:06 p.m.: Gasping slowed down.
- 8:07 p.m.: Smith appeared to take his last breath.
- 8:15 p.m.: Curtains closed in the witness room.

In a press conference, state Department of Corrections Commissioner John Q. Hamm described Smith's reactions as "nothing out of the ordinary" and stated that the expected struggle was observed. The nitrogen flowed for about 15 minutes.

In 2022, Smith's execution attempt via lethal injection failed due to difficulties accessing his veins.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey confirmed the lawfully carried out execution, emphasizing the more than 30-year process and multiple attempts to execute Smith.

Smith was convicted in 1989 for a murder-for-hire plot involving Elizabeth Sennett. The victim's husband hired Smith to kill her for an insurance payout. The original conviction was overturned, and Smith was convicted again in 1996.

The U.S. Supreme Court, despite liberal justices' dissent, refused to halt the execution, marking the first time the nitrogen gas method was used in the U.S. since lethal injection's introduction in 1982.

[With information from USA Today and Associated Press]

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