A Catholic charity in Rome has appealed to the governor of the US State of Alabama to halt an execution scheduled for January 25, 2024.
The Sant’Egidio Community, a Rome-based lay Catholic group with many initiatives supported by the Vatican, has worked for decades to lobby for the end of the death penalty in nations around the world.
The group is now spotlighting the upcoming execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, as it is the first execution in US history that will use nitrogen gas to suffocate the condemned.
The AP reports that Sant’Egidio describes execution by nitrogen as “barbarous” and “uncivilized,” warning that it would lower the bar of the “standards of humanity.” In a press conference, Mario Marazziti, leader of Sant’Egidio’s death penalty abolition group, commented:
“In many respects, Alabama seems to have the awful ambition of setting a new, downward standard of humanity in the already questionable and barbaric world of capital executions.” He would add later, “We are asking that this execution be stopped, because the world cannot afford to regress to the stage of killing in a more barbaric way.”
The Alabama AG office has previously described execution by nitrogen gas as a “the most painless and humane” form of execution, but a separate report from the AP notes that the experience of being executed in such a manner – i.e., what the condemned man will feel – is largely unknown.
Smith, who is on Death Row for the murder-for-hire of a preacher’s wife, has appealed for a different means of execution on the grounds of it being an “untested method.”
Execution by nitrogen hypoxia, the technical term for death by nitrogen gas, has been approved for use in Alabama since 2018, although it has not yet been used in such a capacity. The only other US states that have approved nitrogen’s use in executions are Oklahoma and Mississippi, but neither state has used it to carry out a death sentence.
Learn more about the Sant’Egidio Community and its worldwide mission to end the death penalty at the group’s official webpage.