Alabama suspends execution of Kenneth Eugene after venous access problems

Alabama Thursday night canceled the scheduled execution of a man convicted of the 1988 contract killing of a preacher’s wife after the state struggled to get venous access and the state faced a midnight deadline to get the execution underway bring.

Alabama Department of Justice Commissioner John Hamm said prison staff spent about an hour trying to connect the two required IV lines to Kenneth Eugene Smith, 57, in the body.

The US Supreme Court cleared the case around 10:20 p.m., but the state ruled about an hour later that the lethal injection would not occur that evening. It is the second execution since September that the state has canceled due to venous access difficulties.

The postponement came after Smith’s most recent appeal focused on problems with IV lines at the last two scheduled lethal injections. Since the death sentence expired at midnight, the state must go back to court to request a new execution date.

The US Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the way for Alabama to execute an inmate convicted of the 1988 contract killing of a preacher’s wife.

    Lethal Injection Death Chamber
A look inside a lethal injection death chamber.
Getty Images

Judges reversed a stay issued earlier in the evening by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, allowing the state to proceed with the execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith, 57.

Smith had raised concerns about venous access problems at the state’s last two planned lethal injections as he sought a last-minute grace period.

Prosecutors said Smith was one of two men who were each paid $1,000 to kill Elizabeth Sennett on behalf of her husband, who was heavily in debt and trying to collect insurance.

Sennett was found dead on March 18, 1988 at the couple’s home on Coon Dog Cemetery Road in Colbert County, Alabama. The coroner said the 45-year-old woman was stabbed eight times in the chest and once on each side of the neck. Her husband, Charles Sennett Sr, who was a pastor of the Westside Church of Christ, killed himself as the murder investigation focused on him as a suspect, according to court documents.

Smith’s final appeals focused on the state’s recent lethal injection problems.

One execution was delayed, the other was canceled as the state faced a midnight deadline to get the execution underway. Smith’s attorneys also raised the issue that judges can no longer sentence an inmate to death if a jury recommends a life sentence.

John Forrest Parker, the other man convicted of murder, was executed in 2010. “I am sorry. I never expect you to forgive me. I’m really sorry,” Parker said to the victim’s sons before he was executed.

According to appeals court documents, Smith told police in a statement that it was “consensual that John and I would commit the murder” and that he took objects from the home to make it look like a burglary. Smith’s defense in court said he took part in the attack but had no intention of killing her, according to court documents.

    Lethal Injection Death Chamber Viewing Room.
A viewing room looking into a lethal injection chamber.
Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag

In the hours leading up to the scheduled execution, Smith visited his attorney and family members, including his wife, according to the prison system. He ate cheese sandwiches and drank water, but declined the prison breakfast when it was offered to him.

Joe Nathan James Jr.’s execution was delayed due to problems setting up an IV line, leading an anti-death penalty group to claim the execution was botched. In September, the state called off Alan Miller’s planned execution over difficulties accessing his veins. Miller said in a court filing that prison staff jailed him with needles for over an hour and at one point had him hung vertically on a gurney before announcing they would stop for the night. Prison officials have claimed the delays were due to the state carefully following its procedures.

The state argued to go ahead with the execution, saying Smith was in a different situation than Miller, who was obese.

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

Smith was originally convicted in 1989, and a jury voted 10-2 to recommend a death sentence, which a judge handed down. His conviction was overturned on appeal in 1992. He was tried again in 1996 and convicted again. This time, the jury recommended a life sentence by an 11-1 vote, but a judge overruled 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 impact death row inmates like Smith.

The Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based nonprofit that advocates for inmates, said Smith will be the first state prisoner to be convicted of trespassing and executed since the practice was abolished. Alabama suspends execution of Kenneth Eugene after venous access problems


JACLYN DIAZ is a USTimeToday U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. JACLYN DIAZ joined USTimeToday in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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