Atmore, Alabama — An Alabama inmate on Thursday received a reprieve from a scheduled deadly injection after the U.S. Supreme Court mentioned the state should enable his private pastor within the dying chamber.

The deadly injection of Willie B. Smith III was known as off by Alabama after justices maintained an injunction issued by the eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals saying he couldn’t be executed with out his pastor present in chamber. Department of Corrections spokeswoman Samantha Rose mentioned the execution wouldn’t proceed given the ruling. Alabama has maintained that non-prison workers shouldn’t be within the room for safety causes.

“Willie Smith is sentenced to death, and his last wish is to have his pastor with him as he dies,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a concurring opinion with three different justices.

Willie B. Smith III in December 2020.

Alabama Department of Corrections through AP


“Alabama has not carried its burden of showing that the exclusion of all clergy members from the execution chamber is necessary to ensure prison security. So the State cannot now execute Smith without his pastor present, to ease what Smith calls the ‘transition between the worlds of the living and the dead,'” Kagan wrote. Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined with three liberal justices to let the ruling stand.

The case was the newest in a sequence of authorized fights over private religious advisers at executions. The court docket in 2019 halted the execution of a Texas inmate who claimed his non secular freedom can be violated if his Buddhist religious adviser wasn’t allowed to be within the dying chamber with him.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh recommended in a dissent that states that need to keep away from litigation on the difficulty “should figure out a way to allow spiritual advisors into the execution room, as other states and the federal government have done.”

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall didn’t instantly touch upon the choice to cancel the deadly injection.

After the execution was canceled, Smith was taken from a holding cell by the execution chamber again to his cell on dying row, a jail spokeswoman mentioned.

Smith, 51, had been scheduled to obtain a deadly injection at a south Alabama jail for the 1991 homicide of 22-year-old Sharma Ruth Johnson in Birmingham.

Smith had sought to enable his religious adviser, Pastor Robert Wiley, within the execution chamber, one thing the state does not enable.

“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 legal professionals wrote in court docket paperwork.

In the previous, Alabama routinely put a Christian jail chaplain, who was employed by the state, within the execution chamber to pray with an inmate if requested. The state stopped that observe after a Muslim inmate requested to have an imam present. The jail system, which did not have Muslim cleric on workers, mentioned non-prison workers would not be allowed within the chamber.

Prosecutors mentioned Smith kidnapped Johnson at gunpoint from an ATM, stole $80 from her after which took her to a cemetery the place he shot her within the again of the top. The sufferer was the sister of a police detective.

“Over twenty-nine years ago, Smith gunned down a woman whose only crime was stopping to use the ATM,” attorneys for the state wrote in court docket paperwork searching for to let the deadly injection proceed.

Justices vacated one other keep issued by the eleventh Circuit associated to Smith’s mental capability. His legal professionals argued the state failed to give the person, who has an IQ beneath 75, required help with varieties affecting the timing of his execution. The Alabama lawyer normal’s workplace in court docket filings disputed that Smith is disabled and known as it a last-minute delaying maneuver.

If the execution had gone ahead, it would have been the primary by a state in 2021 and one of the few on the state degree because the begin of the COVID-19 pandemic final 12 months. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, no state has had an execution since final July 8.

After a 17-year hiatus on federal executions, President Trump resumed them in July. By December, the U.S. authorities had executed extra individuals throughout the 12 months than all of the states that also conduct executions. The U.S. put 13 individuals to dying earlier than President Biden took workplace, together with three this 12 months.