An inmate in Alabama was tied up in a death chamber for hours Thursday evening, his lawyers say, as the courts appealed his execution over a murder-for-hire plot to murder a pastor’s wife.
Finally, the execution of death row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith was put off for the night after prison officials were unable to clear a way for the lethal injection to begin between the courts’ 100-minute time limit and midnight. The deadline was fixed. The death warrant expired for the day. Officials cited problems finding a vein for the fatal injection.
It marks the third such failed execution in the state — a problem that experts say is unprecedented nationally.
Smith’s attorneys say he was strapped to death row at Holman Correctional Facility for four hours when the state began preparations for his execution at 7:45 p.m. local time. Officers worked to prepare the lethal injection while Smith’s request to stay was pending before US 11.th circuit Court.
His lawyers said that Smith remained there even after an appeals court stayed the execution and the case went to the US Supreme Court, which eventually lifted the stay around 10:20 p.m. An hour later, Alabama abandoned its attempt to execute Smith at 11:20 p.m. Thursday night, citing legal maneuvering that led to a late start and difficulty finding a vein for the lethal injection.
Kenneth Smith marked Alabama’s third failed execution.
Smith’s incomplete execution was the second instance of the state being unable to execute an inmate in the past two months and its third since 2018. The state completed one execution in July, but has had the same problem with starting an IV line at least partially after only a three-hour delay.
A leader of the Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death penalty group with a large database on the death penalty, said that no state other than Alabama has had to halt an execution in progress since 2017, when Ohio executed Alva Campbell. Lethal injection was withheld because the workers could not. Find t a vein.
According to Ngozi Nduluye, deputy director of the Washington-based group, the only other fatal injection stop occurred in 2009 when an inmate died in Ohio.
“So Alabama has ended up with more lethal injections over the years than the rest of the country combined,” she said.
Ndulue said something clearly went wrong with the state’s execution process.
“I think Alabama clearly has some explaining to do, but also some reflection about what’s going wrong with its execution process,” she said. “The question is whether Alabama is going to take it seriously.”
Lawyers argue the prison may have violated execution protocol
Thomas Wilson, the deputy solicitor general representing the state in Smith’s federal trial, sent an email to Smith’s attorneys, Andrew Johnson and Robert Gross, at 7:45 p.m. CT, informing them that the state was preparing for Smith’s execution. .
A screenshot of the email was included in an emergency motion to provide access to attorneys for Smith and Alabama to preserve evidence from Thursday night. The motion was filed Friday morning with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.
It was unclear what the state was doing as it prepared Smith, 57, for execution. Alabama’s Department of Corrections commissioner told media witnesses after calling off the execution on Thursday that it began attempting intravenous access only after the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the 11th Circuit’s stay at 10:22 p.m. The jail authorities had given permission to hang him.
Smith’s attorneys argue that the prison has failed to “strictly adhere” to its execution protocol as well as U.S. District Judge R.J. Austin Huffaker Jr. may have violated a federal court order.
His lawyers wrote that Smith has injuries and testimonial evidence that needs to be photographed or filmed as soon as possible.
“It is the understanding of plaintiff’s attorney that Mr. Smith was tied to a cane for approximately four hours last night. Counsel is required to observe and interview Mr. Smith regarding the events of last night. Attorney Holman Willing to travel and meet with Mr. Smith today and have a medical professional evaluate Mr. Smith as soon as possible and over the course of the weekend if necessary,” wrote Johnson, one of Smith’s attorneys.
The state recently said in court that it could go as far as inserting an IV line into a condemned inmate while he was in place, arguing that executions don’t begin until the lethal injection drugs begin to flow. At a November 9 hearing about claims brought by Allen Miller, who survived the state’s first attempt on September 22 after staff failed to find a suitable vein, Huffaker asked Deputy Attorney General James Houts whether Alabama The Department of Corrections can strap an inmate to a gurney and have a needle inserted into their arm before it stops.
“We could,” Houts replied. “I’m not saying we do, but we could.”
What did Kenneth Smith do?
Smith, 57, was to be executed by lethal injection at 6 p.m. Thursday at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama, for the contract murder of Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett in 1988.
Authorities believe Sennett’s husband, Charles Sennett Sr. – a publican in the state – paid his wife $3,000 to kill her so he could claim the insurance money to pay off his debts. Sennett kills himself when the police see him as a suspect.
Two others, Billy Gray Williams and John Forrest Parker, were also convicted in Elizabeth Sennett’s death. She was found beaten and stabbed eight times at her home in Cherokee, a rural town in Colbert County. The state executed Parker by lethal injection in 2010. Williams died in prison in 2020 after serving a life sentence without parole.
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