On Thursday, 25 January, Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, became the first person in the United States to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia. He had spent 34 years on death row in Holman Prison, Alabama, for the 1988 murder of a pastor’s wife.
The case caused global controversy as nitrogen hypoxia has been largely abandoned by veterinarians as a method of euthanasia, due to the distress it causes to animals. Moreover, Smith had already survived a botched execution in 2022; for over four hours, his executioners had repeatedly tried and failed to administer the lethal injection. Hence, the state of Alabama’s decision to try this new, untested method.
A number of campaigns by different organizations were launched in an effort to stop the execution. During a press conference organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome on Tuesday, 23 January, the co-founder of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Mario Marazziti, spoke of the “structural hypocrisy” of a system that employs capital punishment. He decried the “barbarism” of this new form of execution and stressed that “a culture of death” must not become the norm.