Lawyers asked Monday the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of the execution of an Alabama man sentenced to death by the jury. This punishment is not possible today because states do not allow judicial override.
Thursday’s execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith for the 1988 murderer-for-hire death of a pastor’s wife is scheduled. In 1996, a judge sentenced Smith to death despite the 11-1 recommendation by the jury for life imprisonment. Alabama was the last state to abolish the practice in which judges could override the sentencing recommendation of the jury in death penalty cases. However, the change did not apply retroactively and did not affect death row inmates like Smith.
“If Mr. Smith had been tried today, he would not have been eligible to be executed.” He would not be eligible for execution in any other state in the United States as every state which once allowed judicial override had abandoned it,” Smith’s attorneys wrote in the request to stay.
Smith’s lawyers asked for justices to review the validity of the execution to to determine if the death sentence, which was imposed against the wishes of the jury, violates the Constitution’s prohibition against cruel or unusual punishment.
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This was days after Smith’s execution was canceled by the Alabama Supreme Court. The request for a stay is expected to be opposed by the Alabama attorney general’s Office.
Prosecutors claimed Smith was one of two men who received $1,000 each to kill Sennett for her husband, Rev. Charles Sennett was in deep debt and wanted to collect insurance premiums.
Elizabeth Sennett, a married woman, was found dead at their home in Colbert County on March 18, 1988. According to the coroner, the victim was stabbed eight times in her chest and once on each side. According to court records, Charles Stennett committed suicide a week later after the murder investigation began to focus on him.
Smith claimed that it was the other man who had stabbed Elizabeth Sennett. John Forrest Parker was the man accused of killing Elizabeth Sennett. He was executed in 2010. “I’m sorry. I don’t expect you to ever forgive me. Before he was executed, Parker told the victims’ sons that he truly regretted his actions.
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Smith was first convicted in 1989. A jury voted 10-2 for a death sentence. The judge then imposed it. In 1992, Smith’s conviction was overturned by an appeal. In 1996, he was again tried and convicted. The jury recommended that Smith be sentenced to life by a unanimous vote of 11-1. However, a judge overruled the jury’s recommendation, and sentenced Smith the death penalty.
Alabama was accused of bungling its last scheduled executions. The state halted the execution of Alan Miller in September because he had difficulty accessing his veins. Miller stated in court that prison staff had poked him with needles over an hour. At one point they left him hanging vertically from a gurney and then announced they would be stopping for the night. Officials at the prison said that they had to stop because there was a midnight deadline for executions. Miller is being sought by the state for a new execution date.