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Why Kenneth Smith is being denied food ahead of nitrogen execution

Why Kenneth Smith is being denied food ahead of nitrogen execution

When Alabama prisoners are typically placed on “death watch” inside a correctional facility, they are monitored by two guards, given the opportunity to write a last will and testament and partake in their final meal in the afternoon.

But earlier this week officials said that would not be the case for Kenneth Smith, who is scheduled to be executed Thursday evening for the 1988 murder of 45-year-old pastor’s wife Elizabeth Sennett in Colbert County.

Smith, officials said, would receive his last meal at 10am and would not be allowed to consume liquids after 4pm, approximately two hours before the execution. Alabama inmates are provided three meals a day.

The prisoner’s final meal consisted of steak, hash browns and eggs, officials said late Thursday.

The decision was made to reduce the likelihood that Smith could start vomiting during the attempt and suffer a “substantial risk of harm”, according to a federal court ruling issued Wednesday.

After Smith survived an initial execution attempt in 2022 via lethal injection, he elected to be put to death by nitrogen hypoxia, a process that slowly deprives prisoners of oxygen. However, he’s previously noted several concerns with the untested method, including the likelihood that he could choke on his own vomit.

Due to the failed attempt, Smith suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. The prisoner said he has spent the weeks leading up to the execution suffering from retching and nausea.

As a result, officials decided that Smith’s last meal would be breakfast, served eight hours before he is scheduled to be put to death.

The process of serving a prisoner their final meal in Alabama is normally organised by William C Holman Correctional Facility Warden Terry Raybon. That’s where most death row inmates spend their final days before officials administer the death penalty.

Based on the state’s execution protocol, all food consumed by death row inmates is to be prepared by the mess steward on duty. Fellow inmates would not be able to help in the preparation of his meals and family members are not allowed to bring outside food or beverages into the facility.

Prisoners are informed of different options available for their last meal and then make a selection. If receiving visitors, inmates can consume their meal in the visitation area while family and friends are able to purchase snacks from nearby vending machines.

If prisoners choose to eat alone, their food can be brought to their observation cell, with the meal selection to be noted in the execution log, along with the time food is served, its contents, an approximate amount and the identity of the individuals delivering the meal.

In a statement, the Equal Justice Initiative, an organisation committed to ending mass incarceration, expressed concern at the prospect of Smith potentially being denied food for 20 hours. A recent law gives officials until 6am on Friday to administer the death penalty.

“Rather than postpone the execution until Mr Smith’s vomiting is resolved, the State changed its protocol at the last minute to deprive Mr Smith of any food after 10am on Thursday in order to preserve their ability to execute Mr Smith this week,” the organisation said.