A witness to the first ever US prisoner to be executed by ‘painless’ nitrogen gas says Kenneth Eugene Smith writhed in agony as he suffered a ‘horrific’ death.
Killer-for-hire Smith, 58, was fitted with a gas mask which was pumped full of 100% nitrogen gas at the execution chamber at the William C. Holman prison in Atmore, Alabama.
State authorities had predicted unconsciousness within seconds and death within minutes.
But instead Smith took 22 minutes to die, convulsing in his chair and tugging against his restraints for several minutes before losing consciousness. At one point as the killer thrashed against
his restraints, his wife Deanna, wearing a T-shirt reading ‘Never Alone’, reportedly cried out for him from the witness box.
Smith was sentenced to death in 1996 for a murder-for-hire killing of a preacher’s wife in 1988, which he was paid just $1000 to commit.
As he spoke his final words, delivered through the gas mask on his face, Smith made a heart sign with his left hand to his family before declaring: ‘Tonight Alabama causes humanity to take a step backwards… I’m leaving with love, peace and light.’
Jeff Hood, who acted as Smith’s spiritual guide throughout the ordeal, said the execution was the worst thing he’d ever witnessed.
‘When they turned the nitrogen on, he began to convulse, he popped up on the gurney over and over again, he shook the whole gurney,’ he said.
Hood was one of the few people to witness the historic execution, and described how Smith was fitted with what looked like a ‘firefighter’s mask’ during the procedure.
After praying for the murderer and telling him that he ‘loved him and he wasn’t alone’, Hood broke down as he recalled the ‘horror show’ of Smith’s final moments.