Thursday, June 10, 2010

John Forrest Parker's Path to the Death Chamber

It took less than a month to arrest John Forrest Parker in the brutal March 18,1988, slaying of Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett of Cherokee. In another year, the then 20 year-old Parker was tried and convicted in the murder of the Colbert County woman. Now, 21 years later, Parker is about to pay the ultimate penalty for his part in the death of this unwanted wife.

John Parker has such a low IQ that he spent most of his Florence school years in special education programs. The same can be said for his partner in the murder for hire, Kenneth Eugene Smith. Together, they entered the Sennett home on Coon Dog Cemetery Road and beat Mrs. Sennett into submission, then gouged her eyes out and eviscerated the minister's wife.

Parker had no previous criminal history, and his friends and family contended the youth was not capable of committing such a violent crime. Parker's court appointed attorneys, Tom Heflin and Gene Hamby, obviously felt the best they could do for their client was to ensure a sentence of Life without the Possibility of Parole, asking potential jurors in Judge Inge Johnson's courtroom how they viewed the death penalty.

The attorneys also asked for a change in venue due to the amount of local publicity the crime had garnered, as well as Judge Johnson's recusal since she had presided over the trial of Billy Gray Williams, the Florence man who recruited Parker and Smith to carry out the actual crime. Both requests were denied, even though Judge Pride Tompkins had already moved Smith's trial to Birmingham.

After two days of jury selection, the trial began; Colbert County District Attorney Gary Alverson presented incontrovertible evidence that the two Florence youths had committed the heinous murder. According to testimony at the trial, Parker himself initially approached Colbert County Investigator Ronnie May, a friend of Parker's brother. Parker informed May that he had been paid one thousand dollars for the use of his car and that Williams and Smith had committed the actual crime.

May became suspicious of Parker's story, and further questioning revealed Parker was under the influence of illicit drugs on the day of the murder. Before asking for an attorney, Parker also agreed to a second interview with May in which he confessed to holding Mrs. Sennett down while Smith repeatedly stabbed her with a survival knife. Reportedly, at that time Parker knelt, asked God's forgiveness, and stated he needed help.

Parker's two attorneys could offer little in rebuttal of the confession, and after a relatively short deliberation, the jury found John Forrest Parker guilty of capital murder, recommending that he spend the remainder of his natural life in prison. Judge Johnson stated the murder for hire was so brutal that she would not honor the recommendation, but sentenced the Florence man to death.

Over the past 20 years, attorneys for Parker have presented numerous appeals to various courts on behalf of their client. Now, there are no more appeals, no more chances for Parker to cheat his sentence. Barring any last minute surprises, the State of Alabama will tonight take the life of John Forrest Parker. Whether we agree with the death penalty or not, 20 years is too long for a family to wait for justice.

Tomorrow: Charles Sennett--He escaped justice.