Alabama man executed in 1988 contract killing

Published 9:59 pm Thursday, June 10, 2010

ATMORE (AP) — Alabama death row inmate John Forrest Parker apologized to the family of his victim minutes before he was executed Thursday for the 1988 contract killing of a woman in a scheme allegedly arranged by her husband, a debt-ridden preacher.

The Supreme Court rejected a request for a stay a few minutes before the execution by lethal injection was scheduled to begin at Holman Prison in Atmore. Parker, 42, was pronounced dead at 6:41 p.m., corrections officials said.

Parker was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to die for the killing of Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett, a 45-year-old grandmother who was stabbed repeatedly and beaten with a pipe at her Colbert County home.

When asked if had any final words, Parker turned his head to face Mike and Charles Sennett, the victim’s sons, and said, “I’m sorry. I don’t ever expect you to forgive me. I really am sorry.”

He then turned his head toward a room where a friend, Carolyn Clemons, and several religious advisers, were sitting. His voice breaking and near tears, Parker said, “I appreciate everything. You all know that I love you.”

He then gave Clemons, who described herself as Parker’s common law wife, a thumbs up sign. She sobbed loudly as she watched his body quiver and then grow still.

Prosecutors said Parker was one of two men paid $1,000 each by a third man on behalf of her husband, the Rev. Charles Sennett, who was deeply in debt and wanted to collect on insurance. He committed suicide one week after his wife’s slaying.

Parker appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court after the Alabama Supreme Court rejected his plea for a stay. In the appeal, Parker’s attorneys challenged the constitutionality of a state law that allowed the trial judge to override the jury’s recommendation that Parker be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Alabama Attorney General’s Office filed a response saying Parker had raised that argument and it had already been rejected by lower courts, and that the trial judge gave sufficient consideration to the jury’s recommendation.

Parker spent most of Thursday meeting with friends and family members, including his mother, Joan Parker, and his father, Edward Parker. Spiritual advisors Ben Sherrod, George Thomas Dooley and Taylor Perry sat with Clemons in the witness room.

Prisons spokesman Brian Corbett said Parker was calm and spent some of his time Thursday reading the Bible. Parker had a final meal of fried fish, french fries and iced tea, Corbett said.

He gave most of his possessions to his mother, including a gold watch, a mirror, seven stamps and a box of pictures. He gave a belt and a wallet to two nephews.

The family planned to take possession of the body after the execution.

Mike Sennett said later he doesn’t know if the apology was sincere.

“He told us that he was sorry and that he was young. He had 22 years to tell me he was sorry and five minutes before he dies he tells me. Do I believe him? Probably not,” he said.

Charles Sennett said that only God knows if Parker was truly remorseful.

“He sounded sincere. I don’t know if he was,” Charles Sennett said.

The brothers, in a written statement, said the quiet death of Parker on a hospital gurney did not compare to the violent death of their mother in her home 22 years ago.

“The pain he did not feel today does not compare to the pain he inflicted on our mother,” their statement said.

But Clemons said that Parker, who she had known for more than 30 years, was a compassionate, loving man who did what he did because of drugs and did not need to die.

She said she was “devastated and hurt” as she watched him die. “It was something I’ll never be able to move past,” she said.

A second man accused of taking part in the attack, Kenneth Eugene Smith, now 44, also is on death row but does not have an execution date.

Court records show that the Rev. Charles Sennett contacted one of his tenants, Billy Gray Williams, about killing his wife, and that Williams then paid Parker and Smith $1,000 each to do it. Williams, 43, is serving life in prison without parole.