Pushing Up Lilies

Kenneth Smith and Nitrogen Hypoxia

Episode Summary

On today's episode, we plunge into the chilling depths of a true crime that shook the foundations of justice. In this episode of Pushing Up Lilies, we uncover the sinister details surrounding the 1988 murder of Elizabeth Sennett, a crime that would lead to the fateful sentencing of Kenneth Smith. We navigate through the haunting narrative of a life extinguished, exploring the dark motives and circumstances that surrounded Sennett's tragic end. Kenneth Smith, convicted for this heinous act, becomes the focal point of our exploration into the web of crime and punishment. Through meticulous research and storytelling, we delve into the events leading to Smith's death sentence and his objection to execution by nitrogen hypoxia. This episode peels back the layers of the criminal proceedings, revealing the intricate dance between perpetrator, victim, and the pursuit of justice. Listener discretion is advised.

Episode Notes


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Episode Transcription

0:06 Welcome to Pushing Up Lilies.

0:08 I'm your host, Julie Mattson.

0:10 Pushing Up Lilies is a weekly True Crime podcast with spine tingling, unusual and terrifyingly true stories from my perspective as a forensic death investigator and a sexual assault nurse examiner.

0:24 Do I have some stories for you?

0:26 Are you ready?

0:31 All right, y'all, this cold dry air in Texas is driving me crazy.

0:35 My nose hurts so bad.

0:38 I can remember feeling this way whenever we go up north to North Dakota to visit the air is so dry and it is driving me crazy.

0:46 I think I need a humidifier.

0:48 I hope that everyone is staying warm.

0:51 I know that we have had a little bit of snow in Texas over the last few weeks.

0:56 Much less than most of you are used to.

0:59 But hopefully everyone is staying warm and safe.

1:02 And this week we're going to talk about.

1:05 It's kind of a strange case and it really sparked my interest when I was reading about it because as you will hear, it's just kind of a strange, different turn of events that happened.

1:18 Kenneth Smith, he has been convicted of murder for hire and he has spent more than two decades on death row.

1:29 He's scheduled to die by nitrogen hypoxia on January 25th.

1:35 This is the first nitrogen hypoxia execution in the nation.

1:43 This is scheduled for Thursday.

1:45 He was on death row, as we said on November 22nd, they were going to execute him by lethal injection, and this is in Alabama.

1:59 They could not establish a vein to administer the medication.

2:04 They tried for several hours who's working there that can't start an IV.

2:11 I'm sorry.

2:12 And do you not have the option of putting one in the jugular or the femoral?

2:20 Like there's so many different bigger veins you could go for if someone doesn't have a good vein in their hand or in the bend of their elbow, which we nurses call an antecubital fossa.

2:34 Maybe they should hydrate them better the night before something's going on because the reason, I say this is there are three other men who were all strapped to a gurney for hours at this same prison due to the inability to start an IV line.

2:56 Number one, most men have larger veins than women.

3:02 I don't know, as nurses, we look at people from across the room and we're like, boy, I could start his IV from here because I mean, they've got just big ropes in their arms.

3:13 I mean, it's hard for me to believe unless these men are extremely dehydrated that there's not somebody at this prison that can start an IV.

3:22 On these four men.

3:24 There's four of them total.

3:26 Alan Miller, Joe James Doyle Ham.

3:29 These were the men that were all strapped to gurneys for hours waiting for their IV to get put in so they could die by lethal injection, and nobody could start their IV.

3:41 I mean, hours, how many times did they stick these guys?

3:44 This is what happened with Kenneth Smith.

3:48 Because his IV could not get started in November.

3:53 He has remained on death row until Thursday when he goes in for this nitrogen hypoxia execution.

4:02 Nitrogen gas requires that they wear a mask, and this delivers pure nitrogen.

4:08 Typically, when this happens, the subject is going to pass out within about 40 seconds and then die within 15 minutes.

4:16 It's a much more I guess, relaxed death somewhat than lying on the gurney for hours having someone poke you.

4:26 I know that they didn't deserve it.

4:27 Hey, these guys are murderers but still I feel like something's wrong if at the same prison, four different men have to get stuck over and over for hours before they can die by lethal injection.

4:43 But the story about Kenneth Smith is in 1988.

4:50 We're talking about, gosh, I just graduated high school.

4:53 In 1988 Reverend, Reverend y'all, Charles Sennett, who was a church of Christ minister in Alabama.

5:04 He was in Culbert County began making arrangements to have his wife Elizabeth Sennett killed Charles was dealing with a substantial amount of debt.

5:15 And so as most people do, who kill their spouse, he had taken out a large insurance policy on his wife, but he was also allegedly having an extramarital affair.

5:28 Sennett, the Reverend recruited Billy Gray Williams to carry out this murder.

5:35 He offered him $3000, and Williams recruited John Forrest Parker and Kenneth Eugene Smith, he was going to pay them $1000 each to do the job for him.

5:50 Basically, they were all going to get $1000 each.

5:53 And then Williams was going to keep $1000 for himself.

5:57 On March 18th of 88 Smith and Parker drove to the Senate's home.

6:05 It's on coon dog cemetery road had to throw that in because that sounds like it's in Texas, but it's in Alabama.

6:12 They met Elizabeth, and she was alone at home at the time, and they told her that the Reverend had given them permission to explore the property because they wanted to look around for possibly a place to hunt on their land.

6:32 Elizabeth called her husband to make sure that he did say that it was ok for them to do that before she gave the two men permission to go ahead and search around the property.

6:45 After wandering the property for quite some time.

6:49 Parker and Smith returned to the house, and they asked Elizabeth if they could come inside to use the restroom and get some water.

6:58 Now, the mug shots of these guys, you know, they look a little bit shady, but I guess, you know, she had talked to her husband, and he told her that yes, he did give these men permission to come look at the property.

7:10 I'm assuming that she was very trusting at that point and allowed them back in not thinking that anything was going to happen to her.

7:19 But once inside these two guys attacked her, they used their fists and other objects such as a fireplace, poker, fireplace, tongs, and possibly a walking cane as well as a survival knife to attack her.

7:40 And now a lot of these weapons were found later in a pond behind the home, the men obviously thought, hey, let's get rid of the evidence, right?

7:49 They threw him in the pond.

7:51 Sennett was stabbed eight times in the chest and once on each side of the neck and she had suffered numerous abrasions and cuts.

8:02 Smith and Parker also trashed the home in order to make the scene look like a burglary had gone wrong.

8:10 And then they made off with a stereo and a VCR.

8:15 Keep in mind this was in 1988.

8:17 VCRS were still a thing if this had happened recently, it would have been a DVD player, but who even has one of those anymore.

8:24 We don't own a DVD player.

8:25 And I can remember at one time we had three, we had like one for each television.

8:30 But now you can just about get anything by streaming back in the day, VCRS were a thing.

8:36 And so they took a stereo and a VCR just to make it look like they were burglarizing the home.

8:43 So that something would be missing.

8:45 Smith took the VCR back to his house in Lauderdale County.

8:50 He also lived in Alabama on the day of the murder.

8:54 Charles Sennett arrived home, and you know, quote unquote discovered his wife's body.

9:01 Of course, as always, the investigation became focused on him as the suspect because it's always the spouse, right?

9:10 Ironically, one week later, he died by suicide at his son's home.

9:17 Basically, after he was interviewed by the police, he went straight home, he admitted to his sons that he had had an affair and that he was also responsible for their mother's death.

9:29 And then he walked outside and got into his pickup and shot himself in the chest.

9:35 And now this was on March 25th of 88 and this all originally went down on the 18th.

9:44 Investigators did spend several days on the crime scene.

9:49 It was several days before he was questioned.

9:52 And so that's why the delay as far as him waiting to kill himself following the murder.

9:59 The state of Alabama offered a $10,000 reward for any information concerning her death.

10:06 Around this time, Crime Stoppers received a call from a woman saying that she could provide information pertaining to the murder and of course she wanted to remain anonymous.

10:20That would mean that she did not want to have to testify, basically. 

10:24 The captain of the Culbert County Sheriff's Office told police that three men were involved in the murder.

10:33 Now, she identified Smith Parker and Williams, and she gave deputies their home addresses and she also knew the makes and models of their cars.

10:43 She told police that Smith still had the VCR taken from the Senate's house and that Parker still had the knife that was used to kill her.

10:53 She also did say that Parker was the one who fatally stabbed Senate and Smith did participate, but Parker was the one who actually stabbed him.

11:05 Based on this information, they obtained a search warrant for the Smith's home in Florence.

11:12 And on the 31st, they searched Smith's home and discovered the VCR.

11:17 Now they didn't find any additional evidence there.

11:21 Smith was taken to the Culbert County Sheriff's Department and of course, read his rights and interrogated and all the thing, this is Smith's confession.

11:32 He said about one month prior to March 18th, 1988, I was contacted by Billy Williams.

11:40 Billy came over to my house and we talked out on the front porch.

11:43 It was late afternoon, Billy said he knew someone that wanted, somebody hurt.

11:49 Billy said that the person wanted to pay to have it done.

11:52 Billy said the person would pay $1500 to do the job.

11:57 I think I told Billy; I would think about it and get back with him.

12:01 Billy lives at the corner of Tuscaloosa Street and Cypress Street near the telephone company.

12:08 Billy drives a red and white thunderbird.

12:10 Billy and I are good friends, Billy and I talked about this several times before I agreed to do it.

12:17 I had already talked with John Parker about helping me.

12:20 He met Charles Sennett about two weeks prior to the murder.

12:26 He didn't know who he was at that time.

12:28 He didn't ask his name.

12:30 Sennett did not ask him what his name was.

12:33 Mr. Sennett said that he wanted somebody taken care of and said that the person would be at home and that there were never any visitors at the residence.

12:44 Of course, he said he would get back with him and they exchanged phone numbers and then I guess several phone calls had taken place between them to see if they had decided to carry out the murder or not.

13:00 And then he and Jim said that they would do what he wanted prior to the murder.

13:06 There was a meeting, Mister Sennett drew them a diagram of the house and told them that they could go prior to the murder and look around the house while Sennett and his wife were gone.

13:21 They could go kind of scope things out so that they would kind of be familiar with the layout of the home before they carried out the murder.

13:28 Very, very well planned.

13:30 The price agreed on was $1000 for each man.

13:34 They had met, apparently several times.

13:37 Sennett gave him part of the money and then showed them the rest of the money $200 was given in advance so that they could purchase anything that they needed to do to carry out the job.

13:50 And then of course, he flashed the rest of the money in front of him and said, you'll get this when it's done.

13:54 They were instructed to make the murder look like a burglary gone bad.

13:58 That was Sennett's idea.

14:00 Sennett told him to take whatever he needed from the house, and they were supposed to commit the murder and then go back to Billy's house and then get the rest of the money anyway.

14:14 Very, very well planned out.

14:16 They didn't know who they were going to kill at the time.

14:19 It looks like they say they got to the house at around 9:30 parked in the back of the house near the patio, knocked on the door and Miss Sennett came to the door.

14:30 They told her that their husband had given them permission to come and look around the property.

14:35 She asked their name, then she went through the phone and called her husband.

14:39 They did look around the property and then that's when they told her that they needed to use the bathroom.

14:45 He did go to the bathroom near the kitchen and then actually sat there in the kitchen and talked to Mrs. Sennett and then John walked up behind her and hit her.

14:57 John was apparently hitting her with his fist while Billy was taking the VCR.

15:04 And then John hit Mrs. Sennett with a large cane and anything else he could get his hands on.

15:10 Apparently, he went into a frenzy and Mrs. Sinnett was yelling, take anything you want, you know, please stop all the things that anyone would yell, you know, when they're being attacked.

15:21 Of course, they messed some stuff up in the house to make it look like a burglary.

15:25 They left her near the fireplace covered with a blanket.

15:29 And then John ran out to the pool and threw some of the weapons in it that were used and then they took the small stereo.

15:37 Smith said that at the time of the murder, he didn't know Charles Sennett's name or his wife's name.

15:45 He didn't even know who he had killed until it came out in the newspaper.

15:49 He knew the name of the woman that they had murdered.

15:53 The trial was on April 7th, 1988.

15:56 Smith was indicted for capital murder.

15:59 I guess the indictment alleged that he intentionally killed Mrs. Sennett by beating her and stabbing her with a knife because it was so public because of the wide publicity in the newspaper and television and media.

16:12 They indicted him in Colbert County, but the trial venue was moved to Jefferson County in November of 1988.

16:19 Smith was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death.

16:23 His conviction and death sentence were overturned in 92 because the state opted to exclude several jurors based on their race.

16:32 I don't know the story behind that, but that sounds like a whole another story.

16:36 Smith was once again tried in Jefferson County and he argued that he did not intend to kill her, although he had agreed with Senate to kill her.

16:48 He says that he was just told to rough her up and make it look like a robbery and that he didn't intend on killing her.

16:56 Needless to say, during the trial, the state couldn't really provide forensic or physical evidence tying Smith to the stab wounds found on Sennett's body.

17:07 The knife used to stab her was also proven to have belonged to John Parker.

17:12 Just a huge mess after more than two decades on death row, Kenneth Smith was supposed to die in November of 2020.

17:24 And due to complications, the Department of Corrections called off the execution.

17:31 Now, apparently the protocol requires lethal injection to be carried out through two veins and they can only gain access to one.

17:40 The second execution attempt is supposed to take place this Thursday.

17:45 And again, he is set to become the first inmate in us history to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia.

17:53 Smith's attorney says that it's experimental.

17:57 I don't know, it just seems very interesting to me that they can't get IV’s in these guys to just do lethal injection.

18:06 But it ought to be interesting assuming, because he's going to be wearing a mask that it'll still be able to be viewed by other people.

18:14 Sennett though, like we said, the Reverend who actually hired these men, took the easy way out, went and, you know, killed himself so that he didn't have to go through the trial.

18:27 Left his sons without parents.

18:30 Mrs. Sennett was eventually transported to the hospital and pronounced; I think Helen Keller hospital.

18:36 The autopsy did show when it was done that she had been beaten with a galvanized pop, stabbed in the chest, neck, face and scalp.

18:48 Now, the reverend apparently did have a history of mental illness.

18:53 He was having an affair; he was having financial issues and had taken out a good size life insurance policy.

19:02 Now, we all know, I know I work in the field every day and I'm not always privy to the life insurance information.

19:10 The police sometimes pick and choose what they share with us.

19:14 But that is a very important piece of information that of course the death investigator would need to know.

19:23 And I know that sometimes when we're on a death scene, I feel like the police don't always 100% want to share with us all the information that they have.

19:32 I always ask them to share with us anything that they have discovered that would help our doctor in the investigation.

19:42 I mean, we know that this was a homicide, but it is also important for us to note in our notes, you know, anything that the police have discovered that would help in any way we do work together as a team, we do share information with one another.

20:00 It's very important because, you know, sometimes I think, as a nurse, when I'm talking to family, they open up a little bit more when you ask them questions, I think sometimes when the police talk to people and this is not on purpose.

20:17 But I think a lot of people feel like they're being interrogated.

20:23 And so they're less likely to disclose information.

20:26 And so I feel like sometimes I get information that they don't get and vice versa.

20:32 It's really nice for us to be able to share information.

20:37 All the local agencies here are very good about sharing information that they got with us.

20:45 But again, it's very important that all that stuff gets put in our report.

20:49 I do love that we get to work together as a team, and we get to share the knowledge and I usually find out some very interesting things about people when we share our notes.

21:01 Anyway, Thursday, we're going to see what happens.

21:06 I'm really interested to see and I'm sure that we'll hear about it on the news how this nitrogen hypoxia death goes down.

21:17 I also find it interesting Ok.

21:18 I didn't know that you had to have vein access to two veins.

21:23 I wasn't aware of that.

21:25 I don't know if it's just because if one doesn't work, they've got a backup plan.

21:29 I mean, it makes sense because I guess it would take them longer to die if you started the infusion and then the vein infiltrated, and you didn't have that second vein access.

21:40 It makes sense.

21:41 It would just take them longer.

21:43 I don't know.

21:43 It's interesting.

21:44 We're going to see how this goes down.

21:46 This is going to be a historical event.

21:48 Apparently it could start to become a thing if it goes down.

21:53 Well, I mean, I guess we'll see, I just thought that that was crazy if you take out a life insurance policy on your spouse and then they end up dying like you are going to be the first person they look at.

22:04 Come on, you are responsible because it's just too obvious.

22:10 People don't understand how easy it is for the police to look at their financials and see that they are struggling.

22:17 It makes it real easy.

22:18 I mean, dumb criminals are easy to catch.

22:22 That's what I've always noticed.

22:24 I mean, it just seems like they're super easy to catch.

22:27 We'll see how this goes down.

22:30 It will be interesting to say the least I am headed to the medical examiner's office this morning.

22:36 I have already had three death calls and I've been on call for I guess two hours.

22:45 It should be an exciting day.

22:46 Very interesting, long, busy day.

22:51 Yesterday.

22:52 Again, a lot of Falls, you know, I'm in the grad program at the University of Texas at Arlington.

22:59 I'm working on my nurse practitioner license and a lot of people are doing their current project on Falls.

23:09 Mine is on the importance of forensic nurses but a lot of people are doing theirs on Falls because it is so, so common.

23:17 I just found that interesting that most people in my class chose that as their subject, but most of them are working in a hospital setting and they deal with it on a daily basis.

23:27 It happens so, so much.

23:29 It's so sad.

23:30 I lay there awake at night sometimes and I'm like, what can we do to keep these old people from falling?

23:35 I mean, outside of wrapping them in bubble wrap, I think they have, you know, the necklaces that you can push, and you know, help I fall in and I can't get up and they've got the bed alarms and of course, we got walkers and things for people to hold on to.

23:52 But the thing is you lose your balance, and you fall backwards.

23:54 It could be all over, especially if you're on blood thinners.

23:57 And I know we've talked about that before.

24:00 But let's just hope that today, I don't want to say the key word but is a nice day at the medical examiner's office and that I am not busy.

24:09 I wanted to add that if you look on my website www dot pushing up lilies.com, you will notice that.

24:18 Now there is a way for you to request that I look into a particular story, maybe something that happened in your hometown, something that happened to you.

24:28 A family member, a friend, you can request that I cover a specific story.

24:34 You can also request to be a guest host.

24:36 Anyone who wants to be a guest host, log on to the website, put in your information and we can do a zoom from your house.

24:45 You don't even have to come here.

24:46 You don't have to be in Texas.

24:48 We can talk about any story that you want to.

24:51 You'll also notice that my Murder Merch store is now open so you can now make purchases in the Murder Merch store.

24:58 There's a lot of really interesting crime related objects on there that you might really like.

25:04 And I know that we have a lot of true crime enthusiasts take a look at that and they're also going to be other services that I offer public speaking will be won at conferences to speak on forensics, also expert witness testimony, as well as consulting for movie scenes and movie sets.

25:25 Lots of interesting things to come and super excited to continue to grow my audience.

25:32 Please share with all your friends, anybody that you know loves true crime.

25:37 Anybody that you think might even like it, I would love to get new followers and I appreciate all of y'all listening and I look forward to your emails again.

25:46 My email is Julie @ PushingUpLilies.com.

25:49 I look forward to hearing from you and I look forward to talking to you next week.

25:53 Have a great week and be safe.

25:56 Thank you so much for joining me today on Pushing Up Lilies.

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26:11 Thanks again for spending your time with me and be sure to visit me at PushingUpLilies.com for merchandise and past episodes.