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Ohio Will Consider Execution by Nitrogen Gas After Alabama Used Method Witness Calls “Horrific”

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Ohio lawmakers are taking the “next steps to kickstart” their execution chamber with experimental nitrogen gas, just days after Alabama used the same method for the first time in U.S. history, which the U.N. has warned is a form of torture. Alabama officials claim the execution was humane and effective, but we speak with Kenneth Smith’s spiritual adviser, Rev. Jeff Hood, who was there and says it was “the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with news that Ohio lawmakers are taking the, quote, “next steps to kickstart” their execution chamber with experimental nitrogen gas, just days after Alabama used the same method for the first time in U.S. history, gassing a prisoner to death. The U.N. has warned this is a form of torture.

Ohio’s Republican Governor Mike DeWine had said lethal injection was no longer an option for executions after a federal judge ruled it caused severe pain and needless suffering. But Ohio’s Republican state Attorney General Dave Yost wrote on X, quote, “Perhaps nitrogen — widely available and easy to manufacture — can break the impasse.”

Yost and other officials are holding a news conference today, less than a week after Alabama executed 58-year-old Kenneth Smith with the nitrogen gas asphyxiation last Thursday. This is a media witness to the execution, Ivana Hrynkiw, a journalist with AL.com.

IVANA HRYNKIW: Kenneth Smith made a lengthy final statement. It began with: “Tonight Alabama caused humanity to take a step backward.” … Kenneth Smith also made a “I love you” sign in sign language with one of his hands that was facing the room where his family was witnessing along with media witnesses. He appeared conscious for several minutes into the execution. For about two minutes following that, Kenneth Smith shook and writhed for about two minutes on a gurney. That was followed by several minutes of deep breaths on the gurney. Following that, his breaths slowed until it was no longer perceptible for media witnesses. The Governor’s Office pronounced the time of death at 8:25. And again, the curtains closed to that room at 8:15 p.m.

AMY GOODMAN: The day after Alabama executed Smith, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall encouraged other states to use nitrogen hypoxia.

ATTORNEY GENERAL STEVE MARSHALL: To my colleagues across the country, many of which were watching last night, Alabama has done it, and now so can you. And we stand ready to assist you in implementing this method in your states.

AMY GOODMAN: Alabama officials claim the nitrogen gas execution is humane and effective. But for more, we’re joined by Kenneth Eugene Smith’s spiritual adviser, Reverend Jeff Hood, who says, “It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen.”

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Jeff. So, you were there watching Smith die, watching him gassed to death. Describe what you saw. And we realize this is not easy. You are just coming off of this execution.

REV. JEFF HOOD: Good morning. Thank you so much.

Like I said, it was the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen. I mean, the gas mask fits from the top of the head to under the chin. It looks like a firefighter’s mask. Once the execution began, it was very clear that Kenny was suffering immensely. He begins to pump back and forth. It really looked like a fish out of water, a fish on a dock. As he pumps back and forth, the gurney was shaking, very clear he was resisting or pushing against the restraints. Every time he pushed forward, his face would thrust into the mask. The mask was tied to the gurney by two, you know, short, small pieces of material. So every time he came forward, his face would slam into the front of the mask. And there was spit, mucus, all sorts of fluids coming out of his mouth, and it was hitting the front of the mask. And so, what that looked like was mucus and these fluids were streaming down the mask. He was very clearly in unbelievable duress. His face was turning purple and red, and his eyeballs looked like they were about to pop out. And it — Amy, it was horrible. It was absolutely horrible. And it was shocking that this is taking place in a nation that prides itself on being one of the human rights leaders of the world.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Reverend Hood, I wanted to ask you — this is the fifth execution you have seen now in 13 months. Why do you witness these? And what about this argument that officials are constantly claiming, that there’s a humane way to execute people?

REV. JEFF HOOD: I mean, for me, there’s two reasons. One is to provide witness, like I’m doing right now, to the horror that these executions are. Two is, of course, to provide spiritual comfort to the guys that I work with. I believe that the message of Jesus is very clear that we are to love the least of these, those who society has shunned, the marginalized and the oppressed.

With regards to the humaneness of this, anyone who would say that is either a lunatic or a liar. This idea that what we saw last week was textbook or that it was normal or anything like that is absolutely absurd. There is no humane way to kill people. There is only a ways to kill people. There’s only ways to perpetuate evil. You know, it’s hard to believe that, as a modern society, that we are still so addicted to killing each other. And, of course, as we kill each other, we teach each other, we teach our young people, to continue killing as a form of vengeance and as a perpetuation of violence.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Hood, this was the second — well, there was a failed attempt at an execution of Mr. Smith several years ago — is that right? — where it was November 2022. The executioners frantically sought a vein to deliver the deadly cocktail, resorting at one point to subjecting Smith, strapped to a gurney, to an inverted crucifixion position as one person on the team repeatedly and painfully jabbed a needle under his collarbone. Even Alabama’s ultraconservative Republican Governor Kay Ivey said there had to be alternative means of execution. And the reason states are moving towards gassing prisoners to death is European companies that provided the chemical — right? — for an injection have said it can’t be used to execute people, because it harkens back to the Holocaust.

REV. JEFF HOOD: Right. Well, I can tell you that if these attorney generals around the country saw what I saw last week, I mean — like I said, I mean, this is absolutely horrendous. It’s horrific. I’m thankful that lethal injections have slown down. I’m thankful for European companies that has pushed back against sending these drugs to the United States. But I will also say that it’s very clear that what we are witnessing is, again, a moral apocalypse. We are seeing states trying these different methods that are going to increase the quotient of torture in this country. And again, it’s absolutely horrendous.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Reverend Jeff Hood, spiritual death row adviser, most recently to Kenneth Smith, we thank you for being with us. The previous spiritual adviser, who witnessed the first failed execution attempt, could never see Mr. Smith again because he was destroyed by what he watched.

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