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Alabama executes Willie Smith by lethal injection

Alabama executes Willie Smith by lethal injection
Willie Smith was sentenced to death in 1992 for the abduction, robbery and murder of Sharma Johnson, 22, in 1991. File Photo courtesy Alabama Department of Corrections

Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Alabama corrections officials executed Willie Smith on Thursday night, eight months after the Supreme Court halted his lethal injection over a dispute about having his pastor present in the death chamber.

Smith, 52, was declared dead at 9:47 p.m., according to the attorney general's office. He was sentenced to death in 1992 for the abduction, robbery and murder of Sharma Johnson, 22, in 1991.

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"The family of Sharma Johnson has had to wait 29 years, 11 months and 25 days to see the sentence of Sharma's murderer be carried out," Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall said in a statement. "Finally, the cruel and unusual punishment that has been inflicted upon them -- a decades-long denial of justice -- has come to an end."

The execution "went according to our protocol," Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner told reporters afterward.

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A press witness to the execution said Smith was accompanied into the chamber by his spiritual adviser Robert Wiley and that he offered no final words, WIAT reported.

He had no last meal and had refused breakfast and lunch during the day in which he was observed drinking a coke and eating M&Ms and barbecue chips, prison spokesperson Linda Mays said.

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The execution was delayed several hours as the U.S. Supreme Court considered a petition by Smith's lawyers over his method of execution, which was denied.

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Alabama allows death row inmates to choose to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia, but they had to say so within a 30-day window in June of 2018.

Smith's attorneys said he missed his opportunity to die by nitrogen hypoxia because of has "lifelong intellectual defects as demonstrated by an IQ of 64 at the low end and 75 at the high end." They said his execution would violate Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

The defense accused the Alabama Department of Corrections of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act when they didn't allow Smith accommodations needed for him to understand his option of electing nitrogen hypoxia as his method of execution.

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The Supreme Court halted Smith's last execution date Feb. 11 a dozens hours before he was scheduled to die. Justices ruled Alabama couldn't execute him without his pastor in the execution chamber with him.

Following the execution Thursday, Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statement, saying it should send a message that Alabama "will not tolerate these murderous acts."

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"The evidence in this case was overwhelming, and justice has been rightfully served," Ivey said.

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