“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,” said Ms. Ivey, a Republican. “My prayers are with the victim’s children and grandchildren as they are forced to relive their tragic loss.”
In a brief email early on Friday, one of Mr. Smith’s lawyers said that he and other lawyers were working into the morning to draft legal filings and work out their next steps.
“Tonight is really tough,” said the lawyer, Jeffrey Horowitz.
Mr. Smith was convicted in 1996 of murdering Ms. Sennett, the pastor’s wife. The pastor, who had offered $1,000 each to Mr. Smith and another man to kill her, killed himself a week after the murder. The other hired hit man was executed in 2010.
At his sentencing proceeding, Mr. Smith’s lawyers noted that he was 22 years old at the time of the crime and had been “neglected and deprived” in his childhood. Other mitigating factors included that Mr. Smith was remorseful, had no significant criminal history and had conducted himself well in jail. Eleven jurors voted for a life sentence with no parole.
But the judge in the case, N. Pride Tompkins, said that the aggravating factors in the case outweighed those issues: Mr. Smith had been paid for the crime, and he had ample opportunity to back out of the murder-for-hire plan but went along with it anyway. Jurors, he said, had heard an “emotional appeal” from Mr. Smith’s mother. Overruling the jury, he imposed the death sentence.
Alabama is one of four states — in addition to Delaware, Florida and Indiana — that ever allowed judges to overrule jurors who recommended against a death sentence, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. All of those states have since outlawed the practice or had it declared illegal by courts.
Mr. Smith’s scheduled execution was to be the fourth this week across the country. Two men were executed on Wednesday, in Arizona and in Texas, and a third was executed in Oklahoma on Thursday morning.