DPRU Research Associate Professor Jon Yorke’s legal advocacy against scheduled nitrogen gas execution in Alabama

Profile photo of Professor Jon Yorke

On 25 January 2024, Kenneth Smith is scheduled to be executed by the State of Alabama, using a new and untested execution process of nitrogen gas inhalation.

In advance of the scheduled execution, Professor Jon Yorke, Research Associate with the Oxford Death Penalty Research Unit (DPRU) and Director of the Centre for Human Rights at Birmingham City University, has been undertaking extensive advocacy and media engagement about the case, applying his international legal expertise.

Together with Dr Joel Zivot, Associate Professor of Anestheisology and Surgery at Emory University School of Medicine, Professor Yorke submitted a legal complaint on behalf of Kenneth Smith to the UN Special Rapporteur on Executions. In response to this complaint, the Special Rapporteur on Executions issued a joint statement with three other UN Special Rapporteurs expressing alarm about the proposed execution, which they warned could “result in a painful and humiliating death", and appealed to federal and state authorities to halt the execution.

The case, and the UN experts’ statement, received media coverage from The Guardian on 3 January (‘UN experts alarmed by Alabama plan to kill prison using untried gas method’), which included quotes from Professor Yorke. The New York Sun (paywall) also covered the case on 10 January, quoting Professor Yorke, as did an earlier article on the JURIST website published in late December.

This week, Professor Yorke and Dr Zivot will speak at two panel events in London and Oxford to discuss the legal and ethical issues surrounding the case and the use of nitrogen as an execution method: 

For further information on the legal background to Alabama’s nitrogen execution protocol in the context of U.S. Supreme Court decision-making on capital punishment, see Professor Yorke and Dr Zivot’s recent post on the DPRU Blog.