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Alabama carries out first US nitrogen gas execution on Kenneth Eugene Smith

Alabama carried out its planned execution of the condemned inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith on Thursday night using nitrogen hypoxia, a controversial and widely-contested death penalty method used for the first time in the United States. The execution took place at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore at 8:25 p.m. local time, officials said. 

In a news briefing, Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Q. Hamm said that the execution began at 7:53 p.m., and the nitrogen mask was kept on Smith for about five minutes after he flatlined. 

According to the pool media report, Smith’s last words were: “Tonight Alabama caused humanity to take a step backward. I’m leaving with love, peace and light. Thank you for supporting me. Love all of you.”

He also made an “I love you” sign with sign language, reporters said. 

A reporter also stated that Smith “appeared to shake and writhe on the gurney for at least two minutes at the start of the execution,” asking Hamm whether that was “expected” or an indication of “suffering.

“It appeared that, one, Smith was holding his breath for as long as he could,” Hamm responded. “And then there’s also information out there that he struggled against his restraints a little bit, but there’s some involuntary movement and some angled breathing. So that was all expected and is in the side effects that we’ve seen, researched, with nitrogen hypoxia.”

In explaining an approximately 45-minute delay from the time that the Supreme Court allowed the execution to proceed to when witnesses were taken into the chamber, Hamm said that “there was a little hiccup on the EKG lines providing a good reading.”

In a statement provided to CBS News following the execution, Smith’s legal team wrote, “We are deeply saddened that the state of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Corrections have executed Kenneth Eugene Smith.”

“Kenny was subject to the death penalty only because his trial judge applied a since-repealed Alabama statute to override the jury’s 11 to 1 determination that his life should be spared – a practice that not only is unavailable under current Alabama law but also has since been declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court,” the statement went on. “There currently are efforts in the Alabama legislature to ensure that inmates like Kenny, who are on death row only because a judge overrode a jury’s measured determination to spare their lives, won’t suffer the same fate that he did today. Unfortunately, those efforts, if successful, will be too 

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