The student news site of Quartz Hill High School

The Ubiquity

The student news site of Quartz Hill High School

The Ubiquity

The student news site of Quartz Hill High School

The Ubiquity

First Nitrogen Hypoxia Execution in the U.S

On January 25th, in a prison in Alabama, a man was executed using nitrogen gas. This was the first execution using nitrogen in the United States. The man, Kenneth Smith, was sentenced to death for assisting in a murder-for-hire in 1988. Previously, he had a lethal injection called off in 2022 when authorities could not connect an IV line. Now, one year later, he is being executed using the untested method. This execution required the user to wear a respirator that covered the entire face, at which the oxygen in the mask would be switched out for 100% nitrogen.

For 15 minutes, nitrogen flowed through Smith. During this time, media witnesses said he was “shaking and writhing” before deeply breathing and passing away. Corrections officers stated that Smith could have been trying to hold his breath or struggling against his restraints. However, corrections officers also noted that some involuntary movement and agonal breathing were supposed to happen, as they were side effects of nitrogen hypoxia. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall stated, “What occurred last night was a textbook”. Although the execution was said to be “textbook,” media witnesses noted that the process Smith went through was quite brutal.

The execution of Kenneth Smith has led to a debate about whether or not the execution method is humane. The White House stated that the execution by Nitrogen Hypoxia is “troubling” to them. Following the execution, international organizations criticized the procedure. Volker Turk, part of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that the death penalty itself was “inconsistent with the fundamental right to life.” Furthermore, the European Union also noted that the new method of execution was “a particularly cruel and unusual punishment.” Many states, along with countries and organizations, have shown their concern for the new execution method. As a result, the usage of nitrogen as an execution technique may not be accessible in the future.

However, in recent years, it has become troublesome for the United States to obtain the ingredients to perform lethal injections. Manufacturers in Europe have refused to sell the drugs required for lethal injections to the U.S. One possibility for the use of Nitrogen Hypoxia is the restriction of ingredients for lethal injections, leading some states to think of new methods of execution. Currently, the only states that have authorized the use execution using Nitrogen are Alabama, Oklahoma, and Mississippi.

Following the death of Smith, 43 other inmates in Alabama have asked for a new execution method. Additionally, Attorney General Marshall gave a message to everyone aware of the execution. He stated, “Alabama has done it, so now can you.” What awaits the future of executions is still unknown, but the implementation of Nitrogen Hypoxia as an execution method has left many to have their doubts.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Trent Elder, Staff Writer
Hello everyone, my name is Trent Elder and I am a senior this year at QHHS. This is my first year on the school newspaper staff, and I hope to improve my skills and gain new knowledge in writing. I am taking a few AP classes as well as honors classes. I plan to produce articles that will leave the reader feeling knowledgeable on various topics. Some things I like to do are going for hikes, working out, and taking naps. I am hoping to enjoy my senior year, get good grades, learn new skills, and pass my AP tests. I am excited to start writing articles for The Ubiquity.