I witnessed Alabama execute a man using nitrogen gas. It was horrific and cruel.

Nobody alive was closer to the nation’s first and thus far only nitrogen hypoxia execution than I was. As Kenneth Smith’s spiritual adviser, I saw every horrific second before, during and after the curtains closed.

I want to make something perfectly clear: Anyone who claims that this was anything short of torture is not just mistaken, they are a dangerous liar.

Kenny Smith's execution was horrific to witness

Does this sound humane?

When nitrogen gas started to flow, Kenny’s face grew more and more intense with every second. Colors started to change. Veins started to flex. Every muscle in his body started to tense.

We had talked for weeks before this moment about what he wanted to do. Never did he say that he would hold his breath. When things began to last way past the seconds that we were told it would, I began to wonder why.

Alabama executed Kenneth Eugene Smith in January using nitrogen gas.
Alabama executed Kenneth Eugene Smith in January using nitrogen gas.

His chest moved up and down with gusto. He was clearly trying to breathe. “Shouldn’t he be unconscious already?” He clearly wasn’t.

He started to look as if his head would pop off. I leaned back. There was nowhere to fall. There only was the nightmare in front of me.

As Kenny’s reactions grew more visceral and violent, the expressions of the guards started to shift dramatically.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. The gurney wasn’t supposed to move. Yet, move it did. Kenny started heaving back and forth. The restraints weren’t enough to keep him still.

Kenny was shaking the entire gurney. I had never seen something so violent. Kenny’s muscles went from tensed up to looking like they were going to combust. Veins spider-webbed in every direction. It looked like an army of ants was running throughout every centimeter of Kenny. There was nothing in his body that was calm. Everything was going everywhere all at once, over and over.

His face. My God ... his face.

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Repeatedly, Kenny’s face jerked toward the front of the mask. I kept wondering if his bulging eyeballs were going to shoot right through.

Saliva, mucus and other substances shot out of his mouth. The concoction of body fluids all started drizzling down the inside of the mask. Back and forth ... back and forth ... back and forth Kenny kept heaving.

We had been told by Alabama officials that the gas would kill Kenny in seconds, but the execution was now going on for minutes. Kenny was very much still conscious. I could see the horror in his eyes. In fact, I’ll never forget it.

God felt far away in those moments

Taking off my glasses, I sobbed. I had never felt so far away from God. I prayed that God would forgive me. I was doing the best that I could.

We all have decisions to make. I hope no one ever again has to deal with the options that I had. They were going to kill him one way or another with or without me, but I was still part of the horrific process. Life was never a choice. I just had to be present for Kenny.

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I prayed the words of the Psalmist repeatedly, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …” But death was far more than a shadow at this point.

Convulsions gave way to shallow breathing. Kenny was barely conscious. Every breath brought more death. It wasn’t just death of a man − it was death to any idea that there could be anything humane about executing a person.

We were told that we would be watching something peaceful. The devastating spectacle of it all was everything but.

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In recent days, politicians have become emboldened to push for nitrogen hypoxia executions in their own states. Such efforts are mindless lunacy.

Mindless in that the people backing the efforts have no idea what they’re talking about. Lunacy in that they are championing the wholesale acceptance of legally suffocating people to death.

These folks haven’t seen what I did. These insane explosions of moral suicide have the propensity not just to destroy life, but even to destroy our very souls. I felt it.

The Rev. Jeff Hood
The Rev. Jeff Hood

The Rev. Jeff Hood is a spiritual adviser to death row inmates across the United States.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Alabama nitrogen gas execution was nothing short of torture. I saw it