• Kenneth Smith was sentenced to death in 1996 for the 1988 murder of Elizabeth Sennett
  • Prison officials did not have enough time to execute the man before his death warrant expired at midnight
  • Smith would have been the fourth inmate to be executed in the U.S. this week

Alabama death row prisoner Kenneth Smith's execution was called off Thursday, minutes before the midnight expiration of his death warrant. The man has been on death row since 1989 in a state which has one of the highest execution rates in the U.S.

The state's Department of Corrections Commissioner John Hamm delivered comments after the execution was called off. State officials failed to fulfill the criteria required to execute Smith, 57, after an hour-long attempt.

The law requires establishing two intravenous lines for prisoners sentenced to death by lethal injection. On Thursday, officials began trying to insert intravenous lines into Smith, shortly after 10 p.m. local time. They were able to establish one line but were unsuccessful with the second line despite trying on several locations on Smith's body, Associated Press reported.

Prison officials couldn't insert a second line before the expiration of the death warrant, and the execution was called off at 11:21 p.m. local time.

The U.S. Supreme Court had cleared the way for Smith's execution a few hours before the execution attempt was initiated, NBC reported. He was initially scheduled to be executed at 7 p.m. ET for his role in the 1988 killing of Elizabeth Sennett, but the U.S Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay.

Justices at the U.S. Supreme Court flipped the 11th U.S. Supreme Court of Appeals' stay, allowing the state to proceed with Smith's execution. It came 90 minutes before the midnight expiration of the issued death warrant.

"We were not able to have time to complete that, so we called off the execution," Hamm said. A jury in 1996 had voted 11-1 for Smith to receive a life sentence without a possibility of parole, but the trial judge sentenced him to death instead.

Smith's attorneys had argued in an earlier filing in the Supreme Court that he shouldn't be executed. They said that if he were tried today and the jury arrived at the same conclusion, he wouldn't be qualified for execution in any jurisdiction as judicial overriding is not permitted anywhere.

His attorneys had argued that putting him to death despite the jury's decision was a violation of his constitutional protection under the Eighth Amendment.

Elizabeth Sennett's murder

Elizabeth Sennett was found dead at her home on March 18, 1988, in her marital home in Alabama's Colbert County. She was stabbed eight times in the chest and once on each side of her neck.

Her husband, Charles Sennett Sr., who was the former pastor of the Westside Church of Christ in Sheffield, had arranged for her murder. He was deep in debt and wanted to collect insurance money to pay it off. Smith was one of the two men who were each paid $1,000 to carry out the murder.

Smith's unsuccessful execution comes on the heels of the state's botched attempt at administering a lethal injection to 57-year-old Alan Eugene Miller. His attorneys reportedly blamed prison staff for poking him with needles for over an hour while trying to find a vein before aborting the execution.

Smith would have been the fourth inmate to be executed in the U.S. this week. Stephen Barbee and Murray Hooper were both executed in Texas and Arizona, respectively. Richard Fairchild was executed in Oklahoma on Thursday.

Representative Image Getty Images/ PAUL BUCK