Alabama is set to be the first state to put to death a prisoner by using nitrogen gas, but a federal judge may halt the execution on procedural grounds.

U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker asked the state to change its method to allow Kenneth Eugene Smith to pray and say his final words before he dies.

The current method would require Smith to wear a gas mask covering his mouth and part of his face.

Smith is scheduled to be executed on  Jan. 25, 2024.

Huffaker set a December 29 deadline to submit information before he rules on Smith's request to block the execution after his attorneys called it unconstitutional. The judge also said not to let his suggestion on changing the execution method to allow the inmate to pray make attorneys think he is going to rule a certain way.

Last year, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) called off Smith's lethal injection execution after they were unable to establish an intravenous line.

Smith's victim, Elizabeth Sennett, died in 1988 after being stabbed eight times in the chest and once on each side of the neck. Court records show Smith and another man were paid $1,000 by Sennett's husband, Rev. Charles Sennett, to kill her. The reverend took his own life a week later, and the other suspect, John Forrest Parker, was executed in 2010.

Nitrogen hypoxia has been authorized as an execution method in Alabama, Oklahoma and Mississippi, but no state has used it.

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