Why was Kenneth Eugene Smith on death row?

Kenneth Eugene Smith became the first person in the world to be put to death using nitrogen gas, after his execution was carried out on Thursday at an Alabama prison.

Smith, 58, was pronounced dead at 8.25pm CT after breathing pure nitrogen gas through a face mask to cause oxygen deprivation – a method that is wholly untested and decried as inhumane by death penalty experts and the United Nations.

It marked the first time that a new execution method has been used in the United States since lethal injection, now the most commonly used method, was introduced in 1982.

The US Supreme Court and a federal appeals court both refused to halt his execution on Wednesday, following last-ditch efforts by his legal team.

The execution took about 22 minutes from the time between the opening and closing of the curtains to the viewing room. For at least two minutes, Smith appeared to shake and writhe on the gurney, sometimes pulling against the restraints.

In his final statement, Smith said, “Tonight Alabama causes humanity to take a step backwards. ... I’m leaving with love, peace and light.”

“Thank you for supporting me. Love, love all of you,” Smith said as he made the “I love you sign” with his hands toward family members who were watching from the viewing room.

But how did Smith end up on death row in the first place?

In 1988, Smith was convicted of murdering Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett in a murder-for-hire plot in Colbert County, Alabama.

Sennett was the wife of Church of Christ pastor Charles Sennett, who allegedly paid Smith and another man $1,000 to kill his spouse.

The pastor was allegedly deeply in debt and wanted to collect on insurance from her death, according to court documents.

Sennett was killed in a brutal attack inside her home.

She was beaten by a fireplace implement and stabbed 10 times in the chest and neck, according to theBBC.

Her death had been staged to look like a home invasion and burglary.

In 1989, Smith was sentenced to death for capital murder, but it was overturned on appeal in 1992.

A jury then sentenced him to life without parole by a vote of 11 to one.

But Smith ultimately wasn’t spared a death sentence, as a judge overruled the jury and handed him the death penalty for a second time in 1996.

Judicial overriding of capital punishment was recently barred in the state, but the law does not apply retroactively.

Smith has already survived one botched execution attempt in November 2022, when he was punctured with needles for nearly four hours. Prison employees called the execution off as they were unable to set an IV line into his veins.

Smith’s accomplice in the murder-for-hire plot, John Forrest Parker, has already been executed in 2010.

Meanwhile, Charles Sennett killed himself as law enforcement began suspecting him of ordering the hit on his wife.

The Independent and the non-profit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to its Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty – with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high-profile executives such as Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are making a pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.