Alabama has executed a death row inmate for the first time in the world, by inhaling nitrogen, a method criticized by the UN as possibly constituting “torture”.

Kenneth Eugene Smith was finally sentenced in 1996 to the death penalty after his trial for murdering a woman at the behest of her husband. He was pronounced dead at the Atmore prison at 8:25 p.m. local time, US media reported, citing a press release from Governor Ivey.

Authorities announced that the death row inmate died after inhalation of pure nitrogen gas through a face mask. It is the first time a new execution method has been used in the United States since lethal injection, the most commonly used method, was introduced in 1982.

The execution lasted about 22 minutes, and Smith appeared to be conscious for several minutes. For at least two minutes, he appeared to be shaking and tugging at the straps he was tied to. For several minutes he breathed heavily until breathing was no longer perceptible.

In his final statement, Smith said “tonight Alabama is making humanity take a step back. …I leave with love, peace and light.”

With his hands he formed the word “I love you” to his family members who were witnesses. “Thank you for supporting me. Love, I love all of you,” Smith said.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said the execution was justice for the 1988 killing of 45-year-old Elizabeth Sennett.
“More than 30 years later and Smith’s attempts to game the system, Mr. Smith has been punished for his horrific crimes. …I pray for the family of Elizabeth Sennett to find peace after all these years of experiencing this great loss,” Ivy said in a statement.

Mike Sennett, the victim’s son, said Smith “he was incarcerated twice as long as I knew my mom».

“Nothing that happened here today will bring mom back. It’s a bittersweet day. We’re not going to celebrate. I will end by saying that Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett was vindicated tonight,” he said.

The state had previously attempted to execute Smith in 2022, but the execution by lethal injection was called off at the last minute because authorities encountered a technical problem.