Alabama inmate Willie B. Smith executed for 1991 murder of woman

ATMORE, Ala. — An Alabama inmate who avoided execution in February died by lethal injection Thursday night for the killing of a woman who was kidnapped and then shot in a cemetery, prison officials said.

>> Read more trending news

Willie B. Smith III, 52, was pronounced dead at 8:47 p.m. CDT at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, AL.com reported.

The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the state from executing Smith on Feb. 11, 2021, because he wasn’t allowed to have his pastor at his side, WTVM reported.

Thursday’s execution went forward after the Supreme Court rejected a late request for a stay by his lawyers, according to The Associated Press. Smith’s attorneys argued the execution should be blocked on the grounds that Smith had an intellectual disability meriting further scrutiny by the courts.

The state allowed Pastor Robert Wiley into the chamber, and the cleric appeared to pray with Smith and put a hand on his leg at the beginning of the execution, AL.com reported.

Smith was convicted of killing Sharma Ruth Johnson in Birmingham on Oct. 27, 1991, according to AL.com. Johnson was the sister of a police detective in Birmingham.

Prosecutors said Smith abducted Johnson at gunpoint at an ATM and stole $80 from her, according to the website. He later took her to a cemetery, where he shot her in the back of the head, the website reported.

“After waiting for 30 years, justice has been served,” Johnson’s family said in a statement read by Alabama Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn.

Experts had estimated Smith’s IQ from 64 on the low end and 75 on the high end. The Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that executing intellectually disabled people is unconstitutional, but the courts ruled he was eligible for the death penalty, the AP reported.

Smith had expressed a desire to be executed by nitrogen suffocation, a method approved by the Alabama Legislature in 2018, WIAT reported. That involves replacing oxygen necessary to breathe with nitrogen gas, the television station reported.

That form of execution has never been carried out in the U.S., although Mississippi and Oklahoma are the other states that have authorized its use, according to WIAT.