Condemned killer will be test case for new execution method


News Staff Writer

The State of Alabama will try for the second time to carry out the execution of an inmate who was one of two people convicted in 1996 of the 1988 murder-for-hire slaying of a Colbert County woman, at the same time becoming the first state to test a new method of capital punishment.
Gov. Kay Ivey announced recently she has ordered that Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, be put to death by his chosen method, nitrogen hypoxia, at some time in the 34-hour span between midnight, January 25, and 6 a.m., January 26.
“The execution will be carried out by nitrogen hypoxia, the method previously requested by the inmate as an alternative to lethal injection,” Ivey said through spokesperson Gina Maiola.
If the execution is successfully carried out, the condemned man will become the nation’s first inmate to be put to death through a process that forces the condemned individual to breathe only nitrogen and deprives him or her of the oxygen needed to maintain bodily functions.
Two other states, Oklahoma and Mississippi, have authorized the use of nitrogen hypoxia, but it has not yet been used to execute a person in either state.
The governor’s announcement came just days after the Alabama Supreme Court decided, in a 6-2 decision (Justice Kelli Wise abstained), that the state could proceed with the new execution method on Smith, who was convicted of killing Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett in the northern Alabama county 35 years ago.
According to court documents, the victim’s husband — Charles Sennett, a debt-ridden preacher — hired Smith to kill his wife. Smith was convicted by a jury in 1996 and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, but a trial judge overrode the jury’s recommendation and sentenced him to death. The state abolished such judicial override in 2017.
Authorities tried to put Smith to death by lethal injection in November 2022, but Alabama Department of Corrections officials halted the proceedings when the execution team could not successfully connect the two intravenous lines to his body.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement released to reporters that Smith, one of 163 people on death row in the state, that the execution should be carried out as soon as possible because the victim’s family had “waited an unconscionable 35 years to see justice served.”