Alabama seeks more nitrogen executions, despite concern over the method

Jun 11, 2024, 6:26 PM

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama is seeking to carry out another nitrogen gas execution, months after the state became the first to put a person to death with the previously untested method.

The attorney general’s office on Monday asked the Alabama Supreme Court to authorize an execution date for Carey Dale Grayson, who was convicted in the 1994 killing of Vickie Deblieux in Jefferson County.

If approved, it would be the third scheduled execution using nitrogen gas. The state in January put Kenneth Smith to death in the nation’s first nitrogen gas execution. Alabama has set a Sept. 26 execution using nitrogen gas for Alan Eugene Miller.

Lethal injection remains the state’s primary execution method, but inmates can request to be put to death by nitrogen gas or the electric chair. After using nitrogen gas to execute Smith in January, the state is beginning to seek execution dates for the dozens of inmates who requested nitrogen as their preferred execution method.

The request comes despite ongoing disagreement and litigation over what happened at the first execution using nitrogen.

Smith convulsed in seizure-like spasms for more than two minutes as he was strapped to the gurney in the execution chamber. That was followed by several minutes of gasping breathing.

Advocates expressed alarm at how the execution played out, saying it was the antithesis of the state’s promise of a quick and painless death. Alabama’s Attorney General Steve Marshall characterized the execution as “textbook” and offered to help other states develop the new method.

Alabama, in its request to the state Supreme Court, noted that Grayson in 2018 selected nitrogen as his preferred execution method. They wrote that Grayson’s death sentence can be carried out by the “method of execution that he voluntarily elected” and that it is time to proceed.

A lawyer for Grayson said there needs to be more scrutiny of the method before it is used again.

“It is disappointing that the State wants to schedule a third nitrogen hypoxia execution before the question of whether the first one tortured Kenneth Smith has been resolved,” John Palombi, an attorney with the Federal Defenders Program wrote in an email.

While Grayson may have selected nitrogen hypoxia over five years ago, Palombi said “he did not know what the procedure would be when he was forced to make this choice.”

“Now that he knows how Alabama will implement this method of execution, he has concerns that may only be resolved through a full trial on the question of whether this method, as Alabama chooses to implement it, is constitutional,” he added.

Grayson was one of four people charged with torturing and killing Deblieux on Feb. 21, 1994

Prosecutors said that Deblieux, 37, was hitchhiking from Tennessee to her mother’s home in Louisiana when she was picked up by the four people. They took her to a wooded area, where she was attacked, beaten and thrown off a cliff. Prosecutors said the teens later returned to mutilate her body, stabbing her body 180 times.

Grayson, along with Kenny Loggins and Trace Duncan, were all convicted and sentenced to death. However, Loggins and Duncan, who were under 18 at the time of the crime, had their death sentences set aside after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 banned the execution of offenders who are younger than 18 when they commit crimes. Grayson was 19.

Another teen was sentenced to the life imprisonment.

If justices authorize the execution, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey will set the exact date.

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Alabama seeks more nitrogen executions, despite concern over the method