Alabama Faces Challenge to Nitrogen Gas Executions

( – As Alabama prepares to implement new execution methods employing nitrogen gas after a few problematic lethal injection attempts last year, a local spiritual adviser for death row inmates is now suing the state to challenge the method.

On Thursday, Dec. 14, Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Hood filed a lawsuit claiming the execution method of using nitrogen gas could cause more problems. Hood argues that using a mask to administer pure nitrogen gas to a prisoner to inhale in order to suffocate may also place his own life at risk and could interfere with his ability to administer spiritual guidance to inmates, specifically an inmate named Kenneth Eugene Smith.

Hood says using nitrogen hypoxia to execute prisoners presents “potentially significant dangers” to his life and would violate his “religious liberties” as well as Smith’s. Hood has been a consistently vocal opponent of using the death penalty and works for the advocacy group Death Penalty Action, although his critics accuse him of only pursuing the cause to seek fame.

Over the years, as drug and medical equipment manufacturers have begun refusing to sell products to executioners, states have had to adjust and make changes to how they conduct executions. Lethal injection drugs are becoming more difficult to procure and some lawmakers have even suggested bringing back firing squads if states cannot obtain the materials needed for other methods.

The situation has forced three states already to turn to nitrogen hypoxia as a possible alternative: Alabama, Oklahoma, and Mississippi. Smith, whose first execution attempt in November 2022 failed, is scheduled to be executed on Jan. 25, 2024. If carried out as planned, it’ll be the first execution carried out using the deadly gas administered through a mask. Smith will be able to breathe normally until eventually passing out after running out of oxygen.

Hood and others who oppose the method are raising concerns about the uncertain process and potential risks for the execution team, other inmates, witnesses, and spiritual advisers.

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