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Reverend witnesses convicted murderer's execution by nitrogen gas

Rev. Jeff Hood described Thursday's execution of a murderer as "cruel and unusual punishment" as nitrogen gas was used to kill Kenneth Eugene Smith.
Posted at 11:59 AM, Jan 26, 2024

After witnessing Kenneth Eugene Smith's execution, his spiritual adviser, Rev. Jeff Hood, told Scripps News it was the worst execution he's witnessed among the five he has been on hand for. 

He called Thursday's execution of the convicted murderer torture and cruel and unusual punishment. Smith was the first person known to be executed by nitrogen gas. 

Officials in Alabama said Smith was pronounced dead at 8:25 p.m. Thursday after breathing from a mask that delivered pure nitrogen gas.

Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request by Smith to block the execution. Also Wednesday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cleared the way for Alabama to proceed with the execution.

Alabama, along with Oklahoma and Mississippi, allow execution by nitrogen gas. 

"They thought it was going to look peaceful, they thought that he would just simply fall asleep," Hood said. "They repeatedly said in their filings that we would see someone lose consciousness in a matter of seconds, and there is no doubt that is not what I saw last night, and that's not what happened."

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Hood said Smith convulsed and rocked back and forth. 

"It's unbelievable that our country that runs around the world preaching human rights could let something like this happen," Hood said. 

Hood said he witnessed four executions last year, including Alabama's last lethal injection in November. He said what he saw Thursday looked a lot different than those instances. 

"It looks as if they're simply falling asleep most of the time," Hood said. "With this, it was much more visceral, and you're seeing moments of excruciating pain and suffering, and the horror of last night will stick with me forever," 

The state first attempted to execute Smith in 2022 via lethal injection, but the procedure was canceled after those administering it could not connect the required intravenous lines to Smith's veins. Smith's lawyers said he spent nearly four hours strapped to a gurney during that attempt. 

Smith was convicted in the murder of Elizabeth Sennett in 1988.

During a press conference on Thursday night following the execution, Sennett's family spoke to the media.

"Nothing that happened here today is going to bring Mom back," said Mike Sennett, son of Elizabeth Sennett. "It's kind of a bittersweet day."

Hood explained why the public should care about how a man convicted of murder was executed. 

"This is not a question about the righteousness of Kenny Smith," Hood said. "There's no question that he committed a horrible crime, horrible crime. This is the question of the righteousness of us.

"Certainly, Kenny Smith again was unrighteous, but who are we to say that we are righteous enough to kill someone? Who are we to say that we are righteous enough to throw the first stone?"