Judge clears way for Alabama to execute convicted murderer Thursday

Published 9:34 pm Monday, October 18, 2021

A federal judge has declined to block Thursday’s scheduled execution of an Alabama inmate convicted of the 1991 kidnap and murder of a woman abducted outside an automatic teller machine.

U.S. Chief District Judge Emily Marks on Sunday denied a request for a preliminary injunction sought by lawyers for Willie B. Smith III. Smith is scheduled to receive a lethal injection on Thursday at a south Alabama prison.

His lawyers argued that Smith, whose IQ has been measured in the 70s, should have been given help to understand prison paperwork related to the selection of an execution method.

Marks was directed Friday by the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to consider the injunction request. Marks denied the injunction request Sunday after ruling that Smith was not likely to prevail in the lawsuit brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Court records indicate his attorneys are appealing.

Smith was convicted of the abduction and slaying of Sharma Ruth Johnson, 22. Prosecutors said Smith abducted Johnson at gunpoint from an ATM in Birmingham, stole $80 from her and then took her to a cemetery where he shot her in the back of the head.

Lethal injection is the main execution method used in Alabama. But after lawmakers authorized nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method in 2018, the new law gave death row inmates a 30-day window to select nitrogen hypoxia as their execution method.

Smith did not turn in the form selecting nitrogen. That laid the groundwork for the state to carry out plans for his execution by lethal injection on Thursday. The state has not developed a system for executing inmates by nitrogen.