NewsFirst U.S. execution by nitrogen gas: Kenneth Smith's historic and disputed 22-minute death

First U.S. execution by nitrogen gas: Kenneth Smith's historic and disputed 22‑minute death

The execution of Kenetta Smith was carried out on Thursday evening.
The execution of Kenetta Smith was carried out on Thursday evening.
Images source: © Getty Images

9:47 AM EST, January 26, 2024

The 58-year-old, who had been on death row for three decades, died on Thursday at 2:25 PM Eastern Time. His death was confirmed by the governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey.

Smith was serving a sentence for the murder of 45-year-old Elizabeth Sennett, a pastor's wife, back in 1988. Smith had survived one previous execution attempt in 2022, where the executioners were unable to administer a successful lethal injection due to complications in inserting it into his vein.

This time, however, the killer, who once accepted money from the victim's husband, a pastor, for the murder, effectively lost his life. According to reports from "The Independent" and others, Smith's spiritual advisor, Jeff Hood, was present during the execution. Hood described the course of the event on Friday.

The details of Kenneth Smith's death: the first convict executed by gas

It took Kenneth Smith 22 minutes to die. As determined by the Alabama court, his life was ended using nitrogen, administered via a special mask—the gas induced hypoxia, leading to his death.

Witness Jeff Hood, a Reverend, informed reporters that he saw Smith fighting for his life for 22 minutes. According to Hood, Smith seemed conscious for several minutes, shaking and writhing on the gurney. Half an hour after the execution began, Smith was pronounced dead.

The Alabama state authorities maintain that the execution went as planned. However, earlier reports claimed that the unverified method of nitrogen gas execution was supposed to result in loss of consciousness within a few seconds and death within a few minutes.

Charles "Check" Sennett, son of Elizabeth Sennett, the murdered pastor's wife, admitted that witnessing Smith's execution was "bittersweet". He spoke to reporters emotionally upon leaving the prison, stating, "Nothing that happened here today will bring back mom. It's a bittersweet day. I feel no joy. We forgave the people involved in this case, many years ago. But we are relieved that this day is over."

Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama asserts that all of Smith's requests were accommodated prior to his execution. "On March 18, 1988, Kenneth Eugene Smith brutally ended the life of 45-year-old Elizabeth Sennett. After over 30 years and several attempts to manipulate the system, Mr. Smith has finally been held accountable for his appalling crimes. The execution was lawfully carried out using nitrogen, a method Mr. Smith himself had previously suggested as an alternative to lethal injection," said the governor.

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