Atmore, Ala. – An Alabama man, whose execution was delayed in February, was stabbed to death on Thursday for the 1991 shooting of a 22-year-old woman who was kidnapped during a robbery and later was shot in a cemetery.
Smith III, 52, received a lethal injection at a prison in southwest Alabama. According to the Associated Press, he was pronounced dead at 9:47 p.m. local time and gave no final words.
The execution went ahead after the US Supreme Court rejected a request for a stay by his lawyers, who argued that the execution should be blocked on the grounds that Smith’s intellectual disability deserved further investigation by the courts.
Smith was convicted of the kidnapping and murder of Sharma Ruth Johnson in October 1991. Johnson was the sister of a Birmingham police officer.
Prosecutors said Smith had a shotgun when he kidnapped Johnson from an ATM location in the Birmingham area. She emptied Johnson’s bank account using her card—withdrawing just $80—while she was locked in the trunk of her car, according to For Alabama Attorney General.
He later went to the cemetery along with others in the car and shot him in the back of the head, officials said.
Willie B. Smith III, 52, is pictured in an undated prisoner photo. (photo credit: Alabama Department of Corrections)
According to the Alabama Attorney General’s summary of facts regarding the case, “Sharma Johnson’s remains were later found in the trunk of her car, where Smith had left her and set her on fire.” “When Smith boasted about his crimes in horrifying detail to an acquaintance wearing a police wire, he was arrested and charged with two counts of manslaughter for his execution-style manslaughter. “
“After 30 years of waiting, justice has been served,” Johnson’s family said in a statement read by Alabama Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn.
The execution began shortly after 9:30 p.m. The state allowed a private clergyman to accompany the prisoner for the first time during the execution. Pastor Robert Willie appeared to pray with Smith as the lethal injection procedure began and placed his hand on her leg.
One of his lawyers held his fist to the mirror of the witness’s room in a clear sign of support.
The court put an earlier execution date for Smith in February when he was already in a holding cell near the Death Chamber, and the US Supreme Court agreed with his appeal that he should be executed without his personal chaplain. Punishment cannot be given.
After the first drugs hit his system, Smith struck twice as fast on the gurney. “That’s midazolam,” one of his lawyers said in reference to the sedative, which has been the subject of litigation, used at the start of the execution.
Initially his breathing was going on but then it slowed down and stopped.
The Alabama Department of Corrections changed some procedures in the event of the COVID-19 pandemic. The prison system limited media witnesses to the executions of a journalist, a representative of the Associated Press, instead of what was previously allowed.
Johnson’s family members watched the hanging in a separate room from Smith’s lawyers and the media. Dunn said the execution went “according to our protocol”.
“Sharma Ruth Johnson was kidnapped at gunpoint, threatened while in the trunk of a car, terrorized, assaulted, and eventually, Willie B. Smith, III brutally killed her,” Alabama Gov. Ive said in a statement issued after the execution.
“The evidence in this case was overwhelming, and justice has been rightly served,” she said.
More recently, Smith’s lawyers had unsuccessfully argued that the prisoner had an intellectual disability that prevented him from understanding the prison paperwork related to the selection of the execution method.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that it was unconstitutional to hang people with intellectual disabilities, but the courts have ruled that Smith deserved the death penalty.
Experts estimated Smith’s IQ at 64 on the low end and 75 on the high end, but the courts ruled that he deserved the death penalty. In a post-test appeal, an expert said that Smith’s IQ, measured at 64, was his language, reading and math skills, and that these particular results were inconsistent with a diagnosis of intellectual disability.
The last-minute court filing focused on whether Smith should be assisted with regard to the selection of an execution method under the Americans with Disabilities Act to understand the form distributed to death row prisoners in 2018. Was. After adopting nitrogen hypoxia as the execution method, state law gave prisoners a 30-day window to request it as their preferred execution method.
If Smith had requested nitrogen hypoxia, his death sentence could not have been carried out to date because the state has yet to develop a system for using nitrogen to kill prisoners.
Smith’s lawyers unsuccessfully asked the Supreme Court to stay the execution until the trial could be held in their ongoing trial, arguing that the Americans with Disabilities Act needed help understanding the form. Was.
The state of Alabama argued that Smith had access to its lawyers for help.
While the Supreme Court allowed the execution to proceed, Justice Sonia Sotomayor Alabama’s haphazard approach criticized But noted that she was “respecting her refusal to stay.”
“Alabama does not dispute that Willie Smith’s intellectual functioning is significantly lower. Although the state debates his accurate reading level and IQ, those disputes do not resolve a fundamental disparity: the ability to inform qualified inmates. State’s narrowed timeline for this and the haphazard approach to doing so,” Sotomayor wrote.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall issued a statement Smith’s execution.
“The family of Sharma Johnson has had to wait 29 years, 11 months and 25 days to execute the sentence for Sharma’s killer,” Marshall wrote. “Finally, the brutal and unusual punishment inflicted on him – the decades-long denial of justice – has come to an end.”