Louisiana approves nitrogen gas executions, Jewish groups opposed measure

Governor Jeff Landry signs 11 crime-fighting bills from the special session on March 5.

On March 5, Louisiana Governor Jeff Landry signed a bill making Louisiana the fourth state to allow executions using nitrogen gas.

The approval comes a month after Alabama conducted the first-ever nitrogen-gas execution. Kenneth Eugene Smith was executed on Jan. 25 for a 1988 murder-for-hire where a pastor hired him and another man to kill his wife.

The bill passed during a special legislative session on Feb. 29. Mississippi and Oklahoma have also voted to allow the procedure, but neither has implemented it.

Though Louisiana now allows the procedure, Rep. Nicholas Muscarello, who drafted the Louisiana bill, said he figures lethal injection will continue to be the state’s primary method. The last execution in Louisiana was in 2010.

The Alabama execution of Smith was a second attempt, as he was scheduled to die by lethal injection in 2022, but officials could not properly connect an IV line.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, passed a resolution on Feb. 18 opposing the implementation of nitrogen gas execution. “We unequivocally call for the rejection of suffocation-based executions, whether through the use of masks or any form of gas chamber, within the state of Louisiana,” the resolution read. “This position is rooted in our historical experiences, moral teachings, and commitment to justice.”

The method evokes “painful memories of the Holocaust,” and while “we do not suggest comparisons to the atrocities of Nazi Germany… we cannot imagine it possible that Jewish communities anywhere could stand by while prisoners are executed in our names, using any variation of that mechanism.”

Naomi Yavneh Klos, the Rev. Emmett M. Bienvenu, SJ Distinguished Chair of Humanities at Loyola University New Orleans, and activist Jacqueline Stern, said in a column thatas Jewish citizens of Louisiana, we find the use of any form of gas for state executions a violation of our ethical principles and of Judaism’s deep commitment to innate human dignity,” and that the Talmud requires an “extremely high threshold” for a death sentence.

They noted that since 1973, 12 Louisiana citizens on death row have been exonerated.

In their piece, they said that the Nazi regime introduced gassing because mass shootings were “too emotionally grueling” for the soldiers. While they stated that gassing of innocents in the Holocaust is different from executing a convicted criminal, “even a murderer is created with innate human dignity” and all people are called on to demonstrate compassion.