In Alabama in the year 1988, all 12 jurors reached a unanimous decision to convict Kenneth Eugene Smith of the murder of a pastor’s wife, but when it came time to propose a punishment, 11 of the jurors opted to spare him and instead recommend that he be sentenced to life in prison instead.
However, the judge decided to go against the verdict of the jury and condemned Mr. Smith to death, which is a procedure that was outlawed in the state of Alabama in 2017 and is not permitted anyplace else in the United States. This prohibition, however, did not extend to previous instances, and Mr. Smith, who is 57 years old, was scheduled to be put to death on Thursday evening at a jail located in southwest Alabama.
Late in the day on Thursday, an appeals court temporarily halted the execution, but the Supreme Court overturned that decision and gave permission for it to proceed about an hour and a half before the state’s death warrant was set to expire at midnight Central time. The execution was initially thrown into doubt as a result of this decision. The ruling issued by the Supreme Court did not include any explanations for why the stay should be lifted; nonetheless, the court’s three liberal justices, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ketanji Brown Jackson, said that they would have maintained the status quo.
Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett, the pastor’s wife, was found dead at her home in 1996, and Mr. Smith was found guilty of her murder. Prior to her death, her husband had agreed to pay Mr. Smith and another man $1,000 apiece to kill her. The spouse took his own life one week after the murder, while the second hired assassin was put to death in the year 2010.
However, the judge who presided over the case, N. Pride Tompkins, ruled that the aggravating elements in the case were more significant than those issues: Mr. Smith had been paid for the crime, and he had plenty of opportunities to back out of the murder-for-hire plan, but he went forward with it nevertheless. The murder-for-hire plot included Mr. Smith killing someone else for money. He said that the members of the jury had been exposed to a “emotional plea” from Mr. Smith’s mother. He decided to inflict the death penalty notwithstanding the jury’s recommendation.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Alabama is one of just four states that has ever permitted judges to ignore the recommendations of jurors who were against the imposition of the death penalty. The other three states are Delaware, Florida, and Indiana. Since then, the practise has been criminalised and made unlawful throughout all of those states by legislative action or judicial ruling.
A flurry of appeals had been made by Mr. Smith’s attorneys in the hours leading up to his execution. They argued that carrying out a death sentence despite a jury recommending life in prison constituted cruel and unusual punishment, and that recent executions that had problems in Alabama suggested that Mr. Smith could suffer an illegally “cruel” death. Mr. Smith was scheduled to be put to death at the Alabama State Prison.
Lawyers for Alabama argued, among other things, that earlier courts had appropriately denied his appeals, pointing out that the statute that was in effect at the time permitted the judge to ignore the recommendation of the jury.
According to the court papers, the officers in charge of carrying out Joe Nathan James’ execution in July had a difficult time locating a vein that was appropriate for the procedure, and a private autopsy indicated that one of his arms may have been severed during the operation. The issue was initially brought to light in an article published in The Atlantic.
In the end, prison officials executed Mr. James by giving him a lethal injection; however, several months later, there was a similar problem finding a suitable vein in another man named Alan Eugene Miller, which led officials to call off the execution shortly before midnight, which was when the death warrant was set to expire. It has not yet been moved to a different time slot.
The execution of Mr. Smith was supposed to be the fourth one to take place throughout the nation this week. On Wednesday, two individuals were put to death in the state of Arizona, and on Thursday morning, a third man was put to death in the state of Oklahoma.