MONTGOMERY — Alabama Attorney General (AG) Steve Marshall is letting Alabamians know there is no moratorium on executions in the state during the investigation into the Alabama Department of Corrections' (ADOC) execution process.
On November 17, ADOC called off the scheduled execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith after officials with the ADOC failed to establish an intravenous (IV) line to administer the lethal chemicals in the state's protocol. Since warrants have a 24-hour limit, Smith's execution was halted when officials determined they could not complete the execution in the required time frame.
Smith's was the second failed execution in 2022. He was convicted in 1989 for the murder-for-hire killing of Elizabeth Sennett the year before. He was retried and convicted again in 1996.
Days after the attempt, Gov. Kay Ivey asked Marshall not to seek additional executions until ADOC Commissioner John Hamm can "undertake a top-to-bottom review of the state's execution process and how to ensure the state can successfully deliver justice going forward."
At a press conference at the AG's office in Montgomery, Marshall addressed Ivey's request and the speculation that ensued after that.
According to Marshall, after Ivey's request, media speculation claimed there was a "moratorium" on capital punishment in the state.
"I will tell you, that characterization came as a great surprise to me because there's only two parties involved in setting an execution in Alabama, that's me as Attorney General, and our Alabama Supreme Court," Marshall said. "Whether before or after that execution, the governor is given the authority to either commute or reprieve the sentence. We each have our individual lawful responsibilities, and I intend to carry out mine."
Marshall further explained that he had no issues reviewing ADOC's protocols but stated that he would not be halting any requests to set an execution. He also said that he had not spoken directly with Ivey.
"I stand before you today to be very clear, insofar as I and my office are concerned, there is no moratorium, nor will there be, on capital punishment in Alabama."
In her request, Ivey claimed that "legal tactics and criminals hijacking the system" were a cause for the multiple failed executions.
According to Marshall, a strategy for defense attorneys is to "run out the clock" while they wait for the death warrant to expire. He also claimed that the legal tactics employed by defense attorneys and the lack of cooperation of the inmates are responsible for delaying justice for the victims' loved ones.
"What occurred on November 17 was a travesty, but not for the reason that many death penalty opponents and death-row sympathizers would have the public to believe," Marshall explained. "It was a travesty of justice not for 'Kenny' Smith, the twice-convicted murderer who was scheduled to be executed that day. But it was for Elizabeth Sennett and the members of her family. Thirty-five years: that's how long Elizabeth Sennett's family waited for justice to occur, 35 long years. To give some perspective, almost half of Alabama's population wasn't even born when this malicious crime was committed. The well-known axiom is true; justice delayed is justice denied. And the clear record is that the delay relating to these executions lies at the feet of the inmates and their lawyers, and not the state of Alabama."
Marshall further criticized media coverage that seemed sympathetic to Smith and took special care to accentuate the plight of families of victims of violent crimes rather than the perceived suffering of those undergoing lethal injection.
"Much of that coverage has seemed to be openly sympathetic to Smith and his cause, even with some going as far as to advocate for the abolishment of the death penalty," Marshall opined. “And on what basis exactly? Because a cold-blooded convicted killer complains about the 'prodding and poking' of a small IV line.
"Let's consider the awful irony of Smith's complaints. He is the monster convicted of the murder of a woman that was stabbed 10 times with a six-inch survival knife. And then she was beaten and bludgeoned to the point that her face was unrecognizable to her family and to her friends. Elizabeth [Sennett], a God-fearing woman and mother, suffered eight stab wounds to her chest, one to each side of her neck and her face was smashed with a fireplace poker. And yet some want to complain that the use of a small IV needle somehow or another violates the constitution."
The AG's office is still litigating any future execution for Smith, and no date has been proposed.
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