The U.S. Supreme Court refused to block four separate death penalty sentences resulting in four executions in four different states in less than two days, the Washington Examiner reported. However, only three died since the last inmate survived his execution attempt due to complications and an expiring death warrant.
The high court heard the cases of Kenneth Smith of Alabama, Richard Fairchild of Oklahoma, Stephen Barbee from Texas, and Murray Hooper from Arizona. Both Barbee and Hooper were executed Wednesday.
Fairchild's case also resulted in an execution Thursday. However, the Supreme Court's late Thursday decision on Smith did not lead to his death.
The justices ruled in a 6-3 decision at 11:20 p.m. EST to block his stay, with the three left-leaning Justices Ketanji Brown Jackson, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting. The state of Alabama had until midnight CST to execute Smith once the final decision was rendered.
Smith, who was paid $1,000 to kill a preacher's wife so her husband could receive an insurance payout, was set to receive death by lethal injection, according to the Associated Press. However, the staff could not access his veins to administer the drugs properly and had to call off the execution.
This also meant that the execution order was allowed to expire for Smith. Thursday's failed attempt marked the second time since September that an execution was canceled due to issues administering the intravenous drugs.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey was unhappy with the outcome, considering the nature of Smith's crime. "Kenneth Eugene Smith chose $1,000 over the life of Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett, and he was guilty, no question about it," Ivey said.
"Some three decades ago, a promise was made to Elizabeth's family that justice would be served through a lawfully imposed death sentence," she added. "Although that justice could not be carried out tonight because of last-minute legal attempts to delay or cancel the execution, attempting it was the right thing to do," Ivey concluded.
Smith was convicted of stabbing Sennett to death after her husband, Charles Sennet Sr., pastor of the Westside Church of Christ, hired him and another man to carry out the crime. Elizabeth Sennett was found dead in the couple's home on March 18, 1988, having been stabbed ten times.
As investigators closed in on her husband, Charles Sennett took his own life. Leading up to the Supreme Court's final ruling, activist Sister Helen Prejean pointed out the complexities of Smith's conviction and sentencing to make her case against his execution.
While the high court had previously said the sentence should be for the "worst of the worst," Prejean pointed to Smith's prison remorse as proof he should be spared. Also, the jury in Smith's second trial following an appeal had voted 11-1 for the death penalty. However, at the time, Alabama had allowed a judge to overrule the jury, and Smith was sentenced to death by lethal injection.
The Supreme Court's decision on these cases is an unfortunate but necessary reality for preventing deadly violence. Murder-for-hire and other such heinous crimes can only be deterred by stiff penalties.