State asks court to reject plea to stop execution

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 9, 2010

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama Supreme Court is expected to rule Wednesday on a last-minute motion to stop the execution scheduled for the next day of John Forrest Parker.

Parker filed the motion last week asking the court to stop the execution because the trial judge overrode the jury’s recommendation that he be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Assistant Attorney General Clay Crenshaw filed a motion with the court Tuesday saying Parker’s claims concerning the judge’s override have already been considered by several courts during the appeals process. Crenshaw also argued that Parker waited too long to raise the issue.

Crenshaw said he expects a ruling from the court sometime Wednesday. Crenshaw said Parker’s arguments are similar to those rejected by the courts last year before the execution of Willie McNair.

The 42-year-old Parker is scheduled to die by injection Thursday at Holman Prison in Atmore. He received the death sentence for the 1988 murder-for-hire death of Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett. She died after being beaten with a pipe and stabbed repeatedly at her home in Colbert County in March 1988.

At his trial, the jury voted 10-2 to recommend that Parker be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, but then Circuit Judge Inge Johnson overrode the jury and sentenced Parker to death.

Johnson is now a federal judge in Birmingham.

In the request for a stay filed Friday, attorneys argued the judge’s override was not consistent with an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that set guidelines for when a judge can take such action. Parker’s motion says the execution should be stayed and the case sent back to a lower court for another sentencing.

But Crenshaw argued in his motion that Johnson’s override of the jury was consistent with rulings by both the Alabama Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court. He also said other courts had rejected Parker’s claims during the appeals process.

But defense attorneys argued in their filing that “the override of the jury’s life verdict in this case manifestly fails to comply with the standards this court has held necessary to prevent arbitrary and capricious application of the death penalty.”

Court records show that the victim’s husband, Rev. Charles Sennett, contacted one of his tenants, Billy Gray Williams, about killing his wife. Williams then hired Parker and another man, Kenneth Eugene Smith.

Court records show the two men were paid $1,000 each to kill Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett.

Smith, 44, is on death row at Holman Prison.

Williams, 43, is serving life in prison without parole at the Donaldson Correctional Facility in Jefferson County.

The victim’s husband committed suicide one week after the slaying. Investigators said he had incurred substantial debts and had taken out a large insurance policy on his wife.