Minister’s Wife Murderer Opposes Being The ‘Guinea Pig’ For The New Execution Technique

An Alabama death row convict who murdered a minister’s wife for a $1,000 reward and escaped lethal injection last year is contesting the state’s choice to execute him using nitrogen hypoxia, a novel execution technique that has never before been employed.

Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett, a grandmother, was fatally stabbed eight times by Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, and accomplice John Forrest Parker in 1988 as part of a contract killing.

Minister's Wife Murderer Opposes Being The ‘Guinea Pig’ For The New Execution Technique

According to court records, Charles Sennett, who funded his wife’s 45-year-old murder, committed suicide a week after her passing. According to the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office, Parker was executed by lethal injection in 2010.

On Nov. 17, 2022, Smith was scheduled to be executed. He challenged the initial execution, claiming that, in light of earlier prisoners’ botched executions, death by nitrogen hypoxia – the inhalation of pure nitrogen to fatally replace oxygen in the circulation — would be less agonising.

Nov. 17, 2022, was a four-hour ordeal for Smith as he was shackled to a gurney as executioners with “unknown medical credentials” poked the prisoner in the arms, hands, and collarbone before the procedure was abandoned, according to the later court documents filed by Smith’s legal team.

Since 2018, Alabama has admitted that at least four executions had been aborted due to IV insertion issues; of those, three had to be stopped and never attempted again. In 2018, following Mississippi and Oklahoma, the ADOC approved nitrogen hypoxia as a method of execution.

Expert on the death penalty Deborah Denno said on Fox News Digital that she would “rather have someone hit me on the back of the head with a hammer than die by lethal injection.”

Autopsies performed after more than 1,000 fatal injections carried out last year revealed that a third of those executions were “botched,” according to Denno. In 50% of those executions, she claimed, not enough of the sedative midazolam was detected in the bodies of the deceased convicts.

Last month, John Q. Hamm, the ADOC commissioner, announced that Smith would be killed via nitrogen hypoxia; in response, the 11th Circuit Court permanently forbade the state from carrying out executions by lethal injection should the new technique prove ineffective.

Then, Smith and his counsel changed their minds and filed an appeal against his second execution, claiming that utilising this “experimental method” to execute him would make him into a “test subject.”

Death by nitrogen hypoxia has never been tried in a therapeutic environment, but it has been used in illegal assisted suicides abroad. The Associated Press noted that although inert gas hypoxia is permitted by the standards of the American Veterinary Medical Association for the killing of chickens, turkeys and pigs but not for other mammals like rats.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the phenomena has also been seen in the realm of aviation, where pilots can lose consciousness or pass out at heights above 10,000 feet.

Smith’s attorneys stated in a document filed on September 22 that executing Smith in any way would be a violation of his Eighth Amendment rights “given that the ADOC already caused him severe physical and psychological pain when they attempted, and failed, to execute him.”

Per an earlier filing cited in the most recent court record, “Mr Smith’s horrifying experience was not a singular event, it was just the latest incident in an uninterrupted pattern of executions by [ADOC] that involved protracted, severely painful and grisly efforts to establish the intravenous lines necessary to carry the lethal injection drugs into his body.”

Additionally, Smith’s lawyers questioned why their client was selected to test the procedure first while at least eight death row inmates specifically requested to be executed using the new procedure in 2018.

The eight inmates who are also on death row at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Alabama, meanwhile, were represented by John Palombi, who told Fox News Digital that his clients had not “waived any right to challenge that method of execution when [the state] adopted a protocol.”

He declared that he would challenge their punishment in court based on the state’s protocol as it is currently written—it was severely redacted and distributed in August.

Denno said the document was “the vaguest protocol [she’d] ever seen, ever.”

“You would want everything specified about exactly what is going to take place. His attorneys have nothing to work with,” she said Monday. “It gets very redacted when you get down to the execution itself. They mention all these cylinders, but they have no idea what they’re talking about. … How is it getting there? How is it being transported? How is it being put into cylinders? Is someone coming in and filling cylinders? This is critical information that we would need to know about any execution method.”

According to Denno, it is unknown if spiritual advisors are permitted in the room during the execution or if spectators would be safe from the colourless, odourless nitrogen. The Holman Correctional Facility’s execution chamber may not be airtight, and the procedure sheet either omitted or had the details of the mask that would deliver the gas erased.

“You have much more detail in states that electrocute people. For example, you have details on what kind of sponge they’re using,” she said. “What’s going to be done with their hands? You don’t know that with nitrogen. How do we know the inmate can’t take the mask off?”

According to court documents, in one of Smith’s earlier appeals, Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court claimed in their dissent that hypoxia should not be viewed as a viable substitute for lethal injection since it has never been utilised and cannot be evaluated in a way that is humane.

Denno stated that replacing lethal injection with death by firing squad would be more cost-effective and compassionate for Alabama, but “states aren’t using that for PR reasons.”

She also mentioned how easy it would be to find skilled volunteers to carry out such an execution.

“I’ve had EMTs email me saying ‘[inserting an IV] is the easiest thing in the world. I don’t understand how they can’t do this’… [But] when John Albert Taylor [chose to die by firing squad] in 1996, volunteers from all over the world came forward. … They had no problem finding people.”

However, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals held in 1983 that neither firing squad execution nor hanging were “feasible or readily implementable alternatives to… lethal injection.” It’s questionable whether an inmate today could advocate for that strategy. Mississippi, Oklahoma, Utah, South Carolina, and, most recently, Idaho have all legalised the procedure as an alternative to lethal injection.

At the time of publication, the Alabama Department of Corrections could not be reached for comment.

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