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Who is Kenneth Eugene Smith? Alabama death row inmate’s lawsuit claims lethal injection violates his rights

Smith was sent to death row in 1996 after his conviction in the murder-for-hire killing of Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett
Kenneth Eugene Smith convicted of beating and stabbing a 45-year-old woman to death will be executed on Monday, November 17 (ADOC)
Kenneth Eugene Smith convicted of beating and stabbing a 45-year-old woman to death will be executed on Monday, November 17 (ADOC)

Warning: This content contains a recollection of crime and can be triggering to some, readers' discretion is advised.

ATMORE, ALABAMA: District Judge R Austin Huffaker dismissed the lawsuit filed by Kenneth Eugene Smith, 57, the murderer of Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett, regarding his lethal injection execution. According to the eighth amendment, the killer claimed that Alabama’s lethal injection protocol violated the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Meanwhile, he argued that the Alabama Department of Corrections violated his due process rights under the 14th Amendment and did not provide him with proper information on his right to choose execution by nitrogen hypoxia instead of lethal injection.


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However, Lawyers for Attorney General Steve Marshall asked the judge to dismiss those claims as the time for Smith to make those challenges had passed. Furthermore, Huffaker stated that the claims made by Smith were based on the 2019 redacted version of the lethal injection protocol, however, through this protocol Smith could file his statute of limitations on challenges only till December 31, 2021. The suit by Smith was filed only on August 18, 2021.

“The Commissioner and his agents, which include all ADOC employees involved in Kenneth Eugene Smith’s execution, are to adhere to strictly, and not deviate from, the ADOC’s established lethal injection protocol during Smith’s execution, In particular, the Commissioner and his agents shall not perform a cutdown procedure or use intramuscular sedation on Smith," wrote Huffaker in a statement. At this juncture, Smith is all set to be executed in Alabama on Monday, October 17, through lethal injection at William C Holman Correctional Facility.

Smith was paid by the pastor, Rev Charles Sennett, who was Elizabeth's husband. Smith and John Parker were the men who were each paid $1,000 to kill Elizabeth to seek insurance money for her husband, who was undergoing an intense financial crisis. Elizabeth was just 45 years old at the time of the murder. She was killed inside her Colbert County home. 

During the initial trial, it was found that the 45-year-old was stabbed eight times in the chest and once on each side of the neck and had also been beaten up. The fellow murderer of Smith, Parker, has already been executed through lethal injection on June 9, 2010, reports Though Parker pleaded with the court, Alabama Supreme Court voted 7-2 to reject his plea for a stay. Meanwhile, Smith also stole a video cassette recorder from the Colbert County home. 

John Parker was executed in 2010 (ADOC)
John Parker was executed in 2010 (ADOC)

Initially, Smith was convicted in 1989, and a jury voted 10-2 to recommend a death sentence, which a judge imposed. However, it was altered by the appeal court in 1992, reports CBS. However, Smith was convicted of capital murder for his involvement in the killing after the trial in 1996. Though the jury voted 11 to 1 that he received a life sentence without the possibility of parole, the trial judge altered the jury's verdict and sentenced him to death. Meanwhile, in 2017, there was an alteration in the law regarding capital sentencing in Alabama which revealed Judges could no longer override juries in death penalty cases. However, this did not come in favor of the murderer as it did not apply to those already on death row. 

Elizabeth was killed in 1988 (Findmygrave)
Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett was killed in 1988 (Findmygrave)

The stolen video cassette recorder was one of the major pieces of evidence against Smith as it was used by the prosecutors at various junctures. Smith explains in court documents regarding the murder, “I knocked on the door and Mrs Sennett came to the door. I told Mrs Sennett that her husband had told us that we could come down and look around the property to see about hunting on it. Mrs Sennett asked my name. I told her I was Kenny Smith. She went to the phone and called her husband and came back and told us it was okay to look around..."

He further added, " I stood at the edge of the kitchen talking with Mrs. Sennett. Mrs Sennett was sitting at a chair in the den. Then I heard John coming through the house. John walked up behind Mrs. Sennett and started hitting her. John was hitting her with his fist. I started getting the VCR while John was beating Mrs. Sennett. John hit Mrs. Sennett with a large cane and anything else he could get his hands on. John went into a frenzy. Mrs Sennett was yelling just stop, we could have anything we wanted."

Later, he explained,  "As John was beating up Mrs Sennett, I messed up some things in the house to make it look like a burglary. I took the VCR out to the car. The last place I saw Mrs Sennett she was lying near the fireplace covered with some kind of blanket... When John got back to the car we drove back to Billy’s apartment to get our money.”

A court document also suggested, “[Smith] agreed... to go beat Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett, to rough her up, to make it look like a robbery for fast cash. That is the terms they used. It was not to kill Mrs. Sennett. It was not to take her life. As shameful and as vile, it was nothing more or nothing less than to beat her up and to take [sic].  And that plan, what they agreed to... that as evil as that plan was, that is all it was.”

The document also stated, “(Charles) Sennett was involved in an affair, had incurred substantial debts, and had taken a large insurance policy out on Elizabeth,” the appeals court’s order stated. “One week after the murder, when the murder investigation started to focus on him as a suspect, (Charles) Sennett committed suicide.” However, recently Alabama witnessed a failed case of execution through lethal injection in Alan Miller's case, failure to tap a vein to administer the lethal drugs on September 22, 2022, reports He is under punishment for a 1999 case of a shooting spree that left three men dead in Shelby County.