WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday rejected Alabama’s attempt to execute a death row inmate by lethal injection, leaving a lower court’s decision that its preference for lethal gas was a viable alternative method.
Kenneth Smith, who was sentenced to death for the 1988 murder of Elizabeth Sennett, opposed execution by lethal injection because of the pain it would cause. He claimed that doing so would violate his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.
Instead, Smith suggested the use of lethal gases.
The Atlanta-based 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Smith’s favor in November, saying that since the state had authorized the use of lethal gas, Smith could seek an alternative method of execution.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals was issued by the state on the same day tried to be executed unsuccessfully Smith by lethal injection. Officials called off the execution after struggling to insert an IV before the death sentence expired at midnight. The Supreme Court, which regularly authorizes executions, had previously authorized the executions to be carried out.
Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito said they ruled in favor of the state.
“When it comes to the question of whether the Eighth Amendment requires a state to substitute an alternative method for its chosen method of executing a plaintiff, it is simply irrelevant that the state’s laws permit the use of the alternative method , which is set to take place sometime in the indefinite future,” Thomas wrote.
Alabama officials say that although lethal gas was approved as an execution method in 2018, an execution protocol has not yet been finalized. It gave prisoners 30 days to choose an alternative method, an option Smith didn’t choose at the time, the state said.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall is disappointed with the Supreme Court’s actions and his office is “reviewing the decision to determine next steps,” said spokeswoman Amanda Priest.
Smith’s attorney, Robert Grass, declined to comment. In court filings, he said the state was already planning to execute more death row inmates with lethal gas.
The case follows a 2015 Supreme Court ruling that denied a challenge to the lethal injection protocol used by Oklahoma.
The court then clarified that a prisoner wishing to challenge the method of execution must demonstrate that there is a viable alternative that can be easily implemented.
In a follow-up case in 2019, the court ruled against a convicted Missouri murderer who chose to die by lethal gas instead of lethal injection because of a rare disease, saying the prisoners were not guaranteed “a painless death.”
Death penalty advocates have criticized lawyers for making last-minute claims to delay executions. During the 2015 case hearing, Alito described the case as “a guerrilla war against the death penalty.”
There were nine executions According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there have been cases in the US so far this year.