The American state of Alabama is preparing to kill a convicted man by nitrogen inhalation on Thursday, a world first denounced by the UN, which likened this method of execution to a form of “torture”.
• Also read: Mask used in an execution: a petition against a Quebec company
• Also read: “A painful and humiliating death”: UN compares new US execution method to torture
The execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was finally sentenced to death in 1996 for the murder of a woman ordered by her husband, will be the first of the year in the United States, where 24 executions were carried out in 2023, all by lethal injection.
The Republican governor of this southeastern state, Kay Ivey, has set Thursday 0600 GMT as the start of the 36-hour period in which the execution can take place.
A previous attempt to execute Kenneth Eugene Smith by lethal injection, on November 17, 2022, was aborted at the last minute because the intravenous infusions to inject him with the lethal solution could not be administered within the time allowed by law, after ” “I was handcuffed for several hours,” his lawyers said.
Alabama is one of three U.S. states that allow executions by nitrogen inhalation, where death is caused by hypoxia (lack of oxygen).
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said on January 16 that it was “alarmed” by this planned execution “using a new and untested method, nitrogen hypoxia.”
This “could constitute torture or other cruel or degrading treatment under international law,” warned Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the High Commission, calling for a stay of this execution.
Alabama's nitrogen hypoxia implementation protocol does not require sedation, although the American Veterinary Association (AVMA) recommends that large animals be sedated during euthanasia, the spokesperson emphasized.
Kenneth Eugene Smith, whose appeals were rejected in Alabama, petitioned the United States Supreme Court on the grounds that this new execution attempt would violate his constitutional rights and requested a stay. But the country's highest court rejected this request on Wednesday with a conservative majority.
In its written arguments before the Supreme Court, the state of Alabama went so far as to portray nitrogen hypoxia as “perhaps the most humane method of execution ever invented.”
Kenneth Eugene Smith was convicted of the 1988 murder of 45-year-old Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett. Her husband, Charles Sennett, a heavily indebted and unfaithful pastor, had ordered this to create the appearance of a failed burglary.
Despite the man's suicide, the police were able to track down the two murderers. Kenneth Eugene Smith's death row accomplice, John Forrest Parker, was executed in 2010.
Kenneth Smith was also sentenced to the death penalty for the first time, but the trial was overturned on appeal. During his second trial in 1996, jurors were divided on the verdict: 11 of 12 recommended a life sentence.
But in his case, as in that of his accomplice, the judge had ignored the jury's opinion and sentenced him to the death penalty, an option that existed in some states at the time but has now been abolished nationwide. American.
In its annual report published in December, the specialized observatory Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) emphasized that most of the prisoners executed in the United States in 2023 “are unlikely to be sentenced to death today” due to consideration in particular of mental health problems and trauma of the accused or changes in the law to impose the death penalty.
The death penalty has been abolished in 23 US states, while six others have a moratorium on its use by governor's order.