‘They didn’t ask Mama what method she wanted’: Sons of victim in Colbert County murder-for-hire speak out 35 years later

COLBERT COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) — Kenneth Eugene Smith, convicted for a 1988 murder-for-hire killing, is set to become the first known person to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia.

He was sentenced to death after being convicted in a 1988 murder-for-hire in Colbert County.

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Smith is one of three men found guilty of killing Elizabeth Sennett. News 19’s Lauren Layton sat down with her two sons, Mike and Chuck Sennett ahead of the scheduled execution.

“Ma was just a homemaker; kind, nurturing. We were with her every day growing up. We never missed a time with her and Daddy,” Chuck said.

The sons said their preacher father, Charles, had a big personality, and everyone in town knew him. Their mom was quieter. She held everything together at the family’s home.

Chuck was 25 years old when his mother was murdered. Mike was 23.

“Chuck called me at work and said, ‘Something happened to Mom on the farm, get out here quick,'” Mike said.

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Elizabeth was stabbed and badly beaten in what first appeared to be a robbery at the family’s home.

“They took her to the hospital and we sat there for a while,” Mike said. “Then they invite you up to the second floor, which is where they deliver the bad news.”

In the coming days, law enforcement began to look at Elizabeth’s husband and the boys’ father. Charles confessed to his family: he was responsible for Elizabeth’s death. He was having an affair, and he paid three men to carry out the murder.

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“He said ‘I failed a lie detector test. I’ve been involved with somebody else.’ We’re taking all this in and can’t believe it,” Mike said.

After Charles told his family, they went outside. Mike recalled Charles asked him to move his car closer to the house. At the time, Mike said he did not understand why his father requested this.

Looking back, Mike said his father was thinking ahead to allow for an ambulance to enter the driveway. Moments after he moved his car, Charles took his own life.

“POW, and you hear it,” Mike said.

“Sounded like a firecracker,” Chuck added.

“He’s in his truck where he shot himself,” Mike said. “That was seven days after mom got killed.”

“Friday to Friday,” Chuck said.

“Lost them both in seven days,” Mike said. “One doesn’t know how much you can take until you go through something like that.”

Lauren asked them how they cope with those memories.

“It’s not a burden anymore,” Chuck said. “The burden is what’s going on down at the state. That’s the burden.”

Chuck is talking about the upcoming execution of Kenneth Smith. He’s the last of the men responsible for Elizabeth’s death who is still alive.

Billy Gray Williams died in prison while serving a life sentence. John Forrest Parker was executed in 2010. Smith, meanwhile, has been on death row for decades.

“He’s been alive and in prison twice as long as I knew my mother,” Mike said.

Smith’s execution has gained international attention because he’s being put to death by nitrogen gas. He requested the method in 2022.

“They didn’t ask Mama what method she wanted,” Chuck said. “He just did it. So why are we having to sit here and go through this with him?”

This will be the Sennetts’ second time going to Atmore to watch Smith die. The Department of Corrections tried to execute him in 2022 by lethal injection. After four hours of trying to secure IV lines, the medical team called off the execution.

“I was madder going out than I was going in,” Chuck said.

“It was a long ride home, ‘What if this? What if? Why?’ we couldn’t figure it out,” Mike recalled.

The brothers said they are ready to move forward once all of this is over.

“If it’s successful, it’ll bring closure for us, we maybe can put it behind us,” Mike said.

“Their family too,” Chuck added.

“Yeah, and forget about it,” Mike said. “Not forget about Mom and them, but forget what happened.”

News 19’s Lauren Layton is scheduled to be one of the five media witnesses allowed at the execution and will provide updates throughout the night. You can read more of News 19’s coverage of the execution here.

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