Why is Kenneth Eugene Smith on death row in Alabama?

Kenneth Eugene Smith could soon become the first person in the world to be put to death using nitrogen gas, with his execution looming on Thursday.

The US Supreme Court and a federal appeals court both refused to halt his execution on Wednesday, following last-ditch efforts by his legal team.

This has paved the way for the Alabama death row inmate to be executed by nitrogen asphyxia – a method that is wholly untested and decried as inhumane by death penalty experts and the United Nations.

Smith’s attorneys have vowed to file another last-minute appeal to the nation’s highest court on Thursday.

But how did Smith end up on death row in the first place?

In 1988, Smith was convicted of murdering Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett in a murder-for-hire plot in Colbert County, Alabama.

Sennett was the wife of Church of Christ pastor Charles Sennett, who allegedly paid Smith and another man $1,000 to kill his spouse.

The pastor was allegedly deeply in debt and wanted to collect on insurance from her death, according to court documents.

Sennett was killed in a brutal attack inside her home.

She was beaten by a fireplace implement and stabbed 10 times in the chest and neck, according to the BBC.

Her death had been staged to look like a home invasion and burglary.

In 1989, Smith was sentenced to death for capital murder, but it was overturned on appeal in 1992.

A jury then sentenced him to life without parole by a vote of 11 to one.

But Smith ultimately wasn’t spared a death sentence, as a judge overruled the jury and handed him the death penalty for a second time in 1996.

Judicial overriding of capital punishment was recently barred in the state, but the law does not apply retroactively.

Smith has already survived one botched execution attempt in November 2022, when he was punctured with needles for nearly four hours. Prison employees called the execution off as they were unable to set an IV line into his veins.

Smith’s accomplice in the murder-for-hire plot, John Forrest Parker, has already been executed in 2010.

Meanwhile, Charles Sennett killed himself as law enforcement began suspecting him of ordering the hit on his wife.

The Independent and the non-profit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to its Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty – with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high-profile executives such as Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are making a pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.

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