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Death Penalty Opponents Demand Gas Companies Cut Off Nitrogen Supply Amid Ongoing Execution Controversy

Nitrogen Gas Companies Urged to Cut Supply in Alabama
Source: Alabama Department of Corrections; MEGA

Kenneth Smith was killed by nitrogen gas 26 years after he was convicted of murder.

Feb. 24 2024, Published 1:02 p.m. ET

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A contentious debate surrounding the use of nitrogen gas for executions is gaining traction, with Alabama emerging as a focal point, all triggered by a convicted murderer.

Opponents of the death penalty are taking legal action to halt Alabama's purchase of nitrogen gas for future executions.

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The recent death of Kenneth Smith, who became the first U.S. inmate to be executed by nitrogen gas, prompted various objections, citing concerns about the experimental nature of the gas.

Despite the absence of reported side effects from Smith's execution, which had been a concern raised by his spiritual advisor, Alabama officials hope to continue utilizing nitrogen gas for upcoming executions.

Consequently, death penalty opponents are adopting a novel strategy: urging gas manufacturers to refuse supplying nitrogen for "nitrogen hypoxia" executions, similar to their efforts against lethal injections.

The sourcing of the gas used in Smith's execution remains undisclosed by the Alabama Department of Corrections, with pertinent details redacted from federal court filings.

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Notably, AirGas has publicly declared its refusal to provide nitrogen for death row executions, citing a misalignment with their corporate values, according to WALA-TV.

However, nitrogen gas is widely available from various companies, unlike the restricted access to lethal injection drugs.

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Despite AirGas's stance, other companies, such as Temu, continue to supply nitrogen gas, highlighting its multifaceted applications in industries like tire inflation, welding and manufacturing.

In the face of such challenges, opponents of the death penalty point to Smith's convulsions preceding his demise as evidence of nitrogen gas constituting "cruel and unusual punishment," a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

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Nonetheless, Alabama's Attorney General Steve Marshall affirms that death row inmates will retain their choice of execution method, with over 40 opting for nitrogen gas out of 164 awaiting execution.

Smith initially selected nitrogen gas in 2022, but legal hurdles forced a switch to lethal injection, resulting in a botched attempt. A recent lawsuit, filed on behalf of another Alabama death row inmate, David Wilson, argues that Smith's execution amounted to a failed human experiment and should not be replicated.

While Mississippi and Oklahoma have also legalized nitrogen gas executions, it serves as a contingency plan in Oklahoma in case of lethal injection unavailability. Notably, South Carolina's legal battles to resume executions exclude nitrogen gas as an option.

The Death Penalty Information Center lists upcoming executions scheduled for Feb. 28 in Idaho and Texas, with no new executions planned in Alabama.

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