‘The Most Horrible Thing I’ve Ever Seen’: Alabama Executes Inmate With Experimental Method

“Witnesses reported that Smith was strapped to a gurney with a gas mask affixed to his face. Smith remained conscious for several minutes after nitrogen began flowing into the mask, and he appeared to be holding his breath for as long as possible. He “struggled against his restraints” and “shook and writhed on a gurney.” Witnesses additionally reported that Smith eventually began breathing deeply, before his breathing slowed and finally stopped. He was pronounced dead at 8:25—about 15 minutes after prison officials began the flow of nitrogen.

“There was some involuntary movement and some agonal breathing, so that was all expected and is in the side effects that we’ve seen and researched on nitrogen hypoxia,” John Hamm, the Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner, said in a press conference Thursday night. “So nothing was out of the ordinary of what we were expecting.”

While prison officials were cavalier about Smith’s execution, others who witnessed his death were not so relaxed about the apparently grisly process. 

The execution was “the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen,” the Rev. Jeff Hood, Smith’s spiritual adviser, told CNN. “An unbelievable evil was unleashed tonight.””

“Smith’s first attempted execution was part of a series of botched executions carried out by Alabama, which led Gov. Kay Ivey to place a moratorium on executions in November 2022. However, she lifted the pause in February 2023, following an opaque internal investigation.”

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