Alabama death row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith has execution date set for January – and will be the first to die by nitrogen gas
- Kenneth Smith, 58, is set to die by nitrogen hypoxia in late January, nearly 35 years after he and another carried out the hit on 45-year-old Elizabeth Sennett
- Accomplice John Forrest Parker, died by injection in 2010 – a fate that awaited Smith last year but was called off when workers failed to kill him by midnight
- Smith blocked the state’s next attempt to execute him by injection, citing cruel and unusual punishment when he was poked with needles for hours in 2022
Alabama will become the first place in the world to carry out an execution using nitrogen gas – after setting an execution date for a man convicted in a grisly murder-for-hire slaying.
Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, is now set to die by nitrogen hypoxia – or suffocation by nitrogen gas – on January 25, nearly 35 years after he and another carried out the hired hit on a 45-year-old preacher’s wife, Elizabeth Sennett.
His accomplice, John Forrest Parker, died by lethal injection in 2010 – a fate that awaited Smith last year but was called off because workers were unable to start an intravenous connection before the execution warrant expired at midnight.
That rule was pulled months later, allowing Governor Kay Ivey to do away with midnight expirations on such warrants. Smith then blocked the state’s next attempt to execute him by injection, citing cruel and unusual punishment when he was poked with needles for hours during their attempt to tap his veins.
The contract killer instead opted to die by nitrogen – an untested method that will be administered for at least five minutes via gasmask, before which the inmate will have the chance to make a final statement before the gas begins to flow, officials said.
This undated photo provided by the Alabama Department of Corrections shows Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was convicted in a 1988 murder-for-hire slaying of a preacher’s wife
Elizabeth Sennett, 45, was found dead on March 18, 1988, in the couple’s home in Alabama’s Colbert County. She had been stabbed eight times in the chest and once on each side of neck
A divided Alabama Supreme Court confirmed Smith’s fate Wednesday, when the all-Republican court voted 6-2 to go through with the controversial method.
The state is now one of three – with the others being Mississippi and Oklahoma – that can legally execute an inmate with nitrogen gas, after Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s requested a new warrant from the long imprisoned inmate.
Many, meanwhile, have criticized the method as immoral – as well as unproven given that it’s never been employed in a legal setting.
That said, Smith – who filed a federal lawsuit in his successful bid to escaped death last year – has not waived his right to challenge the new, untested method, which will see state officials strap a mask on his face and tie him down to a gurney
Smith was initially convicted of the contract killing – ordered by disgraced Rev Charles Edward Sennett – in 1989, and a jury then voted 10-2 to recommend a death sentence, then by electric chair.
A judge eventually agreed to that advice, but Smith’s conviction was overturned on appeal in 1992.
However, he was retried and convicted again in 1996, after which he confessed to stabbing Sennett – a grandmother – several times in her home all at the behest of her husband, who was deeply in debt and seeking to cash in on his spouse’s life insurance.
This time, a jury recommended a life sentence by a vote of 11-1, but a judge overrode that recommendation and again sentenced Smith to death.
Smith was initially convicted of the contract killing – ordered by disgraced Rev Charles Edward Sennett – in 1989, and a jury then voted 10-2 to recommend a death sentence, then by electric chair
A judge eventually agreed to that advice, but Smith’s conviction was overturned on appeal in 1992. Elizabeth ‘Liz’ had two sons, Chuck and Mike, and several grandchildren
John Forrest Parker, the other man convicted in the slaying, was executed by lethal injection in 2010 – a fate that awaited Smith last year but was called off because workers were unable to start an intravenous connection before the execution warrant expired at midnight
That rule was pulled months later, allowing Governor Kay Ivey to do away with midnight expirations on such warrants
The case has been held up since, after Alabama reps relented and allowed the state to be the last to abolish the practice of letting judges override a jury’s sentencing recommendation in death penalty cases.
That said, the change was not retroactive, and therefore did not affect Smith’s case.
Then, in 2018, Alabama – which has a history of flubbing executions – approved nitrogen as a method of execution, giving inmates one month to opt-in to changing their execution method from the default lethal injection.
The state then tried to execute Smith by lethal injection in November of last year, but failed after workers at the state-run facility were unable to start an intravenous connection by midnight.
Upon announcing the new execution date, Alabama Gov. Ivey confirmed Smith – barring any more unforeseen legal outcomes – will die by the new method.
Ivey spokesperson Gina Maiola wrote in an emailed statement: ‘The execution will be carried out by nitrogen hypoxia, the method previously requested by the inmate as an alternative to lethal injection.’
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall celebrated the decision today, after demanding a judge set a date in the execution, which has been held up since the 1990s
The statement also referenced qualms Smith’s attorneys have aired about the method – which they slammed as ‘experimental’.
It is the responsibility of the governor to set the exact execution date.
The announcement of the execution date moves Alabama closer to becoming the first state to attempt an execution by nitrogen gas, although there will likely be a legal fight before it is used, with Smith’s attorneys filing another lawsuit to stop the execution.
The suit, filed hours after Ivey’s announcement, accuses the southern state of attempting to make their client a ‘test subject for this novel and experimental method’, which has never been employed in the US nor any other country.
Citing the initial ruling that was overruled, Smith’s attorney Robert Grass on Thursday reminded onlookers in an emailed statement jurors at Smith’s trial voted 11-1 to recommend a sentence of life imprisonment, and not death.
‘Like the eleven jurors who did not believe Mr. Smith should be executed, we remain hopeful that those who review this case will see that a second attempt to execute Mr. Smith – this time with an experimental, never-before-used method… – is unwarranted and unjust,’ Grass wrote.
Sennett’s husband, who was the pastor of the Westside Church of Christ in Sheffield, killed himself one week after her death when the murder investigation started to focus on him as a suspect, according to court documents
Meanwhile, earlier this month, AG Marshall praised the state’s supreme court for granting his motion to employ the execution by nitrogen hypoxia, writing on X: ‘Elizabeth Sennett’s family has waited an unconscionable 35 years to see justice served.
‘Though the wait has been far too long,’ he added, ‘I am grateful that our talented capital litigators have nearly gotten this case to the finish line.’
As of Thursday, the execution will be the first using nitrogen – spurring scathing statements from victim advocacy groups like The Equal Justice Initiative, a legal advocacy group that opposes the death penalty.
While proponents have theorized the execution method would be painless, many, such as the Equal Justice Initiative, have likened it to human experimentation.
Under the proposed procedures, a mask would be placed over the inmate’s nose and mouth and their breathing air would be replaced with nitrogen, depriving them of the oxygen needed to stay alive.
The nitrogen ‘will be administered for 15 minutes or five minutes following a flatline indication on the EKG, whichever is longer,’ according to the execution protocol.
Nitrogen makes up 78 percent of the air inhaled by humans and is harmless when inhaled with proper levels of oxygen.
An attorney for Smith did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
Alabama, meanwhile, has called off three executions since 2018 due to workers’ failure to set up the necessary links to inmates’ veins.
Source: Read Full Article