UPDATE: Alabama Calls Off Execution after Difficulties Inserting IV

Death Penalty Alabama

This undated photo provided by Alabama Department of Corrections shows inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith. (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP).

By KIM CHANDLER Associated Press

The State of Alabama called off the scheduled execution of a man convicted in the 1988 murder-for-hire slaying of a preacher’s wife after the state had trouble establishing venous access.

The state faced a midnight deadline to get the execution underway.

Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Hamm says prison staff tried for about an hour to get the two required intravenous lines connected to Kenneth Eugene Smith. Hamm said they established one line but were unsuccessful with a second line after trying several locations on Smith’s body.

It is the second execution since September the state has cancelled because of venous access difficulties.

The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for Smith’s execution when at about 10:20 p.m. Thursday, it lifted a stay issued earlier in the evening by the 11th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals. But the state decided about an hour later that the lethal injection would not happen that evening.

Smith was convicted in the 1988 murder-for-hire slaying of a preacher’s wife.

Smith had raised concerns about problems with venous access at the state’s last two scheduled lethal injections. Prosecutors said Smith was one of two men paid $1,000 each to kill Elizabeth Sennett on behalf of her husband who was deeply in debt and wanted to collect on insurance. A jury voted 11-1 to recommend a life sentence, but a judge overrode the jury’s recommendation and sentenced Smith to death.

Smith, 57, was scheduled to receive a lethal injection on Thursday evening.

Elizabeth Sennett was found dead on March 18, 1988, in the couple’s home in Colbert County. The coroner testified that the 45-year-old woman had been stabbed eight times in the chest and once on each side of the neck.

Her husband, Charles Sennett Sr, who was the pastor of the Westside Church of Christ in Sheffield, killed himself one week after his wife’s death when the murder investigation started to focus on him as a suspect, according to court documents.

Smith’s appeal focused on the state’s difficulties with intravenous lines at the last two scheduled lethal injections. One execution was carried out after a delay, and the other was called off as the state faced a midnight deadline to get the execution underway.

Smith’s attorneys also raised the issue that judges are no longer allowed to sentence an inmate to death if a jury recommends a life sentence.

John Forrest Parker, the other man convicted in the slaying, was executed in 2010. “I’m sorry. I don’t ever expect you to forgive me. I really am sorry,” Parker said to the victim’s sons before he was put to death.

According to appellate court documents, Smith told police in a statement that it was, “agreed for John and I to do the murder” but that he just took items from the house to make it look like a burglary. Smith’s defense at trial said he agreed to beat up Elizabeth Sennett but that he did not intend to kill her, according to court documents.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday denied Smith’s request to review the constitutionality of his death sentence.

Smith was initially convicted in 1989, and a jury voted 10-2 to recommend a death sentence, which a judge imposed. His conviction was overturned on appeal in 1992. He was retried and convicted again in 1996. This time, the jury recommended a life sentence by a vote of 11-1, but a judge overrode the jury’s recommendation and sentenced Smith to death.

In 2017, Alabama became the last state to abolish the practice of letting judges override a jury’s sentencing recommendation in death penalty cases, but the change was not retroactive and therefore did not affect death row prisoners like Smith.

The Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery-based nonprofit that advocates for inmates, said that Smith stands to become the first state prisoner sentenced by judicial override to be executed since the practice was abolished.

(Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)


Categories: Crime, News, Statewide