Alabama would be 1st state to execute an inmate this year

Willie B. Smith III | Source: Alabama Dept. of Corrections

Alabama would be the first state to carry out an execution this year if it wins another appeal.

Posted: Feb 11, 2021 7:39 AM
Updated: Feb 12, 2021 12:42 PM

Update - Alabama cancels execution after court requires pastor

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama would be the first state to carry out an execution this year if it proceeds with plans to put to death a 51-year-old inmate convicted of the shotgun slaying of a police detective's sister decades ago.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay blocking the Thursday night execution, but the state is expected to appeal.

Willie B. Smith III was scheduled to receive a lethal injection at a south Alabama prison for the 1991 murder of Sharma Ruth Johnson in Birmingham. Prosecutors said Smith abducted Johnson, 22, at gunpoint from an ATM, stole $80 from her and then took her to a cemetery where he shot her in the back of the head.

Judges on the 11th Circuit stayed the lethal injection to give time to consider defense claims that the state failed to give the man, who has an IQ of below 75, required assistance with forms impacting the timing of his execution. The Alabama attorney general's office in court filings disputed that Smith is disabled and called it a last-minute delaying maneuver.

The court also issued a separate ruling on religious grounds saying Alabama cannot execute Smith unless they allow his personal pastor in the execution chamber.

If the execution goes forward, it would be the first by a state in 2021 and one of the few at the state level since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, no state has had an execution since last July 8.

A jury convicted Smith in 1992 in the death of Johnson, the sister of a Birmingham police detective.

Appellate courts rejected Smith’s claims that his trial lawyers provided ineffective assistance and that he should not be executed because he is intellectually disabled. A defense team expert estimated his IQ at 64 while a prosecution expert placed it at 72.

Last-minute court filings centered on concerns about the coronavirus outbreak and Smith's request to have his personal pastor in the chamber. “Mr. Smith pled that he believes that the point of transition between life and death is important, and that having his spiritual advisor physically present at that moment is integral to his faith,” Smith’s lawyers wrote.

The 11th U.S. Court of Appeals on Wednesday reversed a district judge and said Smith should be allowed to have his pastor with him.

In the past, Alabama routinely brought in a prison chaplain who would pray with an inmate if requested. The state stopped that practice after Muslim inmates asked to have an imam present, saying it would no longer allow non-prison staff in the chamber. The change undercut claims of unequal treatment between inmates of different faiths.

Smith’s attorneys also argued that an execution would be a super-spreader event. Some COVID-19 cases have been linked to recent federal executions.

The Department of Corrections has changed some procedures in the face of the pandemic. The prison system is limiting media witnesses to one journalist, a representative from The Associated Press.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 308111

Reported Deaths: 7122
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20826248
Hinds19910411
Harrison17510302
Rankin13334276
Jackson13118243
Madison9908210
Lee9871170
Jones8297160
Forrest7525147
Lauderdale7198237
Lowndes6272144
Lamar611084
Lafayette6039117
Washington5281133
Bolivar4772129
Oktibbeha455897
Panola4445103
Pearl River4428141
Warren4284118
Marshall4276100
Pontotoc416972
Monroe4061132
Union403975
Neshoba3994176
Lincoln3871109
Hancock372885
Leflore3468124
Sunflower329589
Tate322782
Pike3188104
Scott310872
Yazoo304468
Alcorn298065
Itawamba297177
Copiah293265
Coahoma289778
Simpson288284
Tippah284868
Prentiss275759
Marion266079
Leake261373
Wayne261341
Grenada255384
Covington254780
Adams246082
Newton245161
George238147
Winston225981
Tishomingo222267
Jasper219748
Attala213473
Chickasaw205057
Holmes186872
Clay182854
Stone179331
Clarke177076
Tallahatchie175540
Calhoun163531
Yalobusha159236
Smith158834
Walthall130643
Greene129433
Lawrence126423
Noxubee126233
Montgomery125542
Perry125138
Carroll120926
Amite120141
Webster113532
Jefferson Davis105432
Tunica102725
Claiborne101330
Benton97325
Kemper95428
Humphreys94332
Franklin82123
Quitman78916
Choctaw73417
Wilkinson64928
Jefferson64828
Sharkey49617
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 520503

Reported Deaths: 10722
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson754091487
Mobile38938798
Madison33898495
Tuscaloosa25297443
Montgomery23992567
Shelby23124239
Baldwin20652300
Lee15541165
Calhoun14301311
Morgan14145270
Etowah13665346
Marshall11967219
Houston10381278
Elmore10001200
Limestone9822147
Cullman9481188
St. Clair9435234
Lauderdale9223227
DeKalb8748181
Talladega8071171
Walker7100275
Jackson6762110
Autauga6734103
Blount6497135
Colbert6210130
Coffee5404112
Dale4766110
Russell429038
Franklin419982
Chilton4087109
Covington4056114
Tallapoosa3898146
Escambia388574
Dallas3531149
Chambers3503122
Clarke346560
Marion3066100
Pike305876
Lawrence295395
Winston272572
Bibb256459
Marengo248661
Geneva245875
Pickens233059
Barbour225255
Hale218775
Butler212566
Fayette209260
Henry187744
Cherokee182144
Randolph176941
Monroe172040
Washington164238
Macon154848
Clay149555
Crenshaw149257
Cleburne146241
Lamar139334
Lowndes136553
Wilcox124327
Bullock121340
Conecuh109128
Perry107926
Sumter102932
Coosa99328
Greene91034
Choctaw58724
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