In brief: August 2023


In Alabama last week, where corrections officials botched three executions in a row last year because of the execution team’s inability to insert IV lines for lethal drugs, Attorney General Steve Marshall asked the state Supreme Court last week to set an execution date for Kenneth Smith and indicated the state plans to kill Smith by nitrogen hypoxia. Smith’s execution was called off last November after the state repeatedly failed to find usable veins to inject its lethal injection drugs into him. Nitrogen hypoxia has never been used in a state execution before, but Marshall stated that it is “a means of execution authorized under Alabama law,” in his motion to the court. The Equal Justice Initiative said that with Alabama’s “history of “failed and flawed executions and execution attempts…experimenting with a never before used method is a terrible idea,” WION News reported.

Smith was sentenced to death for the 1988 murder-for-hire killing of Elizabeth Sennett. Prosecutors charged that Smith and two other men had been hired by Elizabeth Sennett’s husband, the Reverend Charles Sennett, to kill his wife. Charles Sennet died by suicide after his involvement in the murder was discovered.

In Ohio, which hasn’t killed anyone in five years because of an inability to obtain lethal injection drugs, prosecutors are pushing for execution by nitrogen hypoxia. Spectrum News 1 reports that Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association Executive Director Louis Tobin insists that “the death penalty is what justice demands sometimes.” However, a Ohio Council of Churches spokesman is pushing back, saying, “I think the public supports life in prison for those persons.” And, according to Spectrum News 1, the governor’s office pointed out that only the Ohio General Assembly has the authority to change the state’s execution protocol.

In Tennessee, Michael Cummins, accused of killing eight people in 2019, pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder in return for a sentence of life without parole. The prosecution agreed to the plea agreement after a brain scan revealed that Cummins had severe mental impairment, the Tennessean reported. Sumner County District Attorney Ray Whitley told the paper all of the victims’ family members, three of whom were immediate family members of Cummins, agreed to the life sentence.

In North Carolina, death penalty opponents from across the state attended a service and march sponsored by the North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty earlier this month to mark the 17th anniversary since the state’s last execution, and to demand the end of state killing. Of the 136 people on North Carolina’s death row, 60% are people of color, nearly half of whom were sentenced by overwhelmingly white juries. Twelve people have been exonerated, 11 of whom were people of color. The state has killed 43 people since 1976.

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