MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) – Alabama became the first state to execute a person using nitrogen after Thursday night’s execution.
Kenneth Smith was put to death by inhaling pure nitrogen pumped through a mask.
In court filings, the state had said the method could cause people to lose consciousness within seconds. However, it is unclear if and when this happened for Smith, according to witnesses who recount minutes of convulsions.
“We haven’t seen anyone lose consciousness in 30 seconds. What we saw were minutes of someone fighting for their life,” Smith’s spiritual advisor, the Rev. Jeff Hood, said at a news conference after the execution Thursday evening.
Hood, who opposes the death penalty, was with Smith in the room. He says what happened was bad.
“I stood there and cried while I watched someone choke to death,” Hood said.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said justice is long overdue. At a news conference Friday morning, he called the execution “textbook” and called Smith’s response expected.
Marshall also apologized to the family of murder victim Elizabeth Sennett for the three and a half decades it took for this execution to take place.
“We cannot lose sight of the fact that a woman was brutally murdered. Taken from his family. And that’s why the state of Alabama had to act last night,” Marshall said.
Sennett’s sons witnessed the execution and said they had forgiven Smith, but nothing would bring their mother back.
“Kenneth Smith made bad decisions 35 years ago and his debt was paid tonight,” Mike Sennett said.
Marshall says that now that the execution is complete, he expects the other two states that have authorized this method — Mississippi and Oklahoma — to move forward.
“Alabama did it, and now you can too.” We are ready to help you implement this method in your states,” Marshall said.
Marshall says 43 other Alabama death row inmates have chosen this method and he expects more to do so.