Alabama calls off execution after difficulties inserting an IV

This undated photo provided by the Alabama Department of Justice shows inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was convicted of the 1988 murder of a preacher's wife.  Smith, 57, is scheduled to receive a lethal injection Thursday, November 17, 2022, at a South Alabama prison.  (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP).
This undated photo provided by the Alabama Department of Justice shows inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was convicted of the 1988 murder of a preacher's wife.  Smith, 57, is scheduled to receive a lethal injection Thursday, November 17, 2022, at a South Alabama prison.  (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP).
This undated photo provided by the Alabama Department of Justice shows inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was convicted of the 1988 murder of a preacher's wife.  Smith, 57, is scheduled to receive a lethal injection Thursday, November 17, 2022, at a South Alabama prison.  (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP).

This undated photo provided by the Alabama Department of Justice shows inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was convicted of the 1988 murder of a preacher’s wife. Smith, 57, is scheduled to receive a lethal injection Thursday, November 17, 2022, at a South Alabama prison. (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP).

This undated photo provided by the Alabama Department of Justice shows inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was convicted of the 1988 murder of a preacher’s wife. Smith, 57, is scheduled to receive a lethal injection Thursday, November 17, 2022, at a South Alabama prison. (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP).

ATMORE, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s execution of a man convicted of the 1988 contract killing of a preacher’s wife was called off just before midnight Thursday because state officials couldn’t find a suitable vein to inject the deadly drugs.

Alabama Justice Department Commissioner John Hamm said prison staff spent about an hour trying to connect the two required intravenous lines to Kenneth Eugene Smith, 57. Hamm said they set up a lead but were unsuccessful with a second lead after trying multiple locations on Smith’s body. Officers then tried a central line, which involves inserting a catheter into a large vein.

“We didn’t have time to finish that, so we canceled the execution,” Hamm said.

It’s the second execution since September, the state has canceled due to difficulties establishing an IV line with a deadline looming.

The US Supreme Court cleared the way for Smith’s execution when, at about 10:20 p.m., it overturned a stay granted by the US Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals the night before. But the state decided about an hour later that the lethal injection would not take place that evening.

The postponement came after Smith’s most recent appeal focused on problems with intravenous lines in the last two planned lethal injections in Alabama. Since the death sentence expired at midnight, the state must go back to court to request a new execution date. Smith was returned to his regular cell on death row, a prison spokesman said.

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. The murder and revelations about who was behind it shook the small community in north Alabama

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey blamed Smith’s last-minute appeals for preventing the execution from progressing as planned.

Kenneth Eugene Smith chose $1,000 over Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett’s life, and he was guilty, no question. About three decades ago, Elizabeth’s family was promised that justice would be served by a lawful death sentence,” Ivey said. “Although that justice could not be enforced tonight because of a last minute attempt to delay or cancel the execution, it was the right thing to try.”

Alabama has come under scrutiny for its problems with recent lethal injections. In ongoing litigation, inmate attorneys seek information about the qualifications of the execution team members responsible for connecting the lines. At a Thursday hearing in the Smith case, a federal judge asked the state how long it was too long to try to establish a line, noting that at least one state mandates an hour limit.

the execution by Joe Nathan James Jr. took several hours to get underway because of problems setting up an IV line, leading an anti-death penalty group to claim the execution had been botched.

In September, the state canceled the scheduled execution of Alan Miller for difficulty accessing his veins. Miller said in a court filing that prison staff poked him with needles for more than an hour and once hung him vertically on a gurney before announcing they were quitting. Prison officials have claimed that the delays were due to the state following procedures carefully.

Sennett was found dead on March 18, 1988 in the home she shared with her husband on Coon Dog Cemetery Road in Colbert County, Alabama. The coroner said the 45-year-old woman had been 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 records.

John Forrest Parker, the other man found guilty of murder, was executed in 2010. “I’m 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 it was “agreed upon that John and I would commit the murder” and that he took items from the home to make it look like a burglary. Smith’s defense in court said he took part in the attack, but he had no intention of killing her, according to court documents.

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 that was offered to him.

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. The jury recommended a life sentence by an 11-to-1 vote, but a judge overturned the 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 is the first state prisoner to be convicted by court trespass and executed since the practice was abolished.

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

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For more information on AP’s coverage of executions, visit https://apnews.com/hub/executions

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