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The planned execution of an Alabama death row inmate by nitrogen hypoxia next week amounts to torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, a top United Nations human rights official said Tuesday.
Last week, a federal judge ruled that Alabama will be allowed to put Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, to death using nitrogen gas. Smith was convicted of the 1988 murder-for-hire slaying of a preacher’s wife.
“We are alarmed by the imminent execution in the United States of America of Kenneth Eugene Smith, through the use of a novel and untested method — suffocation by nitrogen gas, which could amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under international human rights law,” Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson for Volker Türk, who is the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement.
ALABAMA JUDGE GREENLIGHTS HITMAN’S EXPERIMENTAL EXECUTION: ‘NOT GUARANTEED A PAINLESS DEATH’
Kenneth Eugene Smith was convicted in a 1988 murder-for-hire slaying of a preacher’s wife. (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP/File)
Smith was sentenced to death for the 1988 contract killing of a preacher’s wife, Elizabeth Sennett, whom he and accomplice, John Forrest Parker, stabbed eight times for $1,000 apiece. Smith was nearly executed in November 2022 by lethal injection, but the procedure was botched.
His attorneys have said Alabama is trying to make Smith the “test subject” for an untried execution method after he survived the state’s previous attempt to put him to death by lethal injection.
They claimed in legal filings that putting Smith back into the state’s execution chamber would constitute double jeopardy, and that to test the new execution method on the inmate would violate his constitutional rights.
DEATH PENALTY IS INCREASINGLY SEEN BY AMERICANS AS BEING ‘UNFAIRLY’ ADMINISTERED, GALLUP REPORT FINDS
A gurney is used in giving lethal injections to convicted death row inmates. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki/File)
Turk has voiced concerns that Smith’s planned execution could violate two international human rights treaties the United States is bound by — the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
“We have serious concerns that Smith’s execution in these circumstances could breach the prohibition on torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as his right to effective remedies,” Shamdasani said.
Tuesday’s statement noted that the “American Veterinary Medical Association recommends giving even large animals a sedative when being euthanized in this manner, while Alabama’s protocol for execution by nitrogen asphyxiation makes no provision for sedation of human beings prior to execution.”
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While convicted killer Kenneth Eugene Smith, top row left, would be the first in Alabama to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia, eight other state death row inmates have petitioned to die from the method, including: David Wilson, top row second from left, Charles Lee Burton, Geoffrey West and Gregory Hunt; Robin Myers, bottom row left, David Lee Roberts, Demetrius Frazier and Carey Dale Grayson. (Mugshots: Alabama Department of Corrections | Background photo: Giles Clarke/Getty Images)
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The protocol refers to the odorless and colorless gas being administered for up to 15 minutes, it said.
The execution method calls for a respirator-like mask to be placed over Smith’s nose and mouth. Breathable air will gradually be replaced with nitrogen gas, causing the inmate to die of a lack of oxygen — in theory, without the painful sensations of being unable to breathe.
Smith is set to be executed Jan. 25.
Fox News Digital has reached out to the Alabama Department of Corrections.
Louis Casiano is a reporter for Fox News Digital. Story tips can be sent to [email protected].