An Alabama prisoner got a reprieve from a planned lethal injection after the US supreme court said the state must allow his pastor in the death chamber.
Thursday’s scheduled execution of Willie B Smith III was called off by Alabama officials after the justices maintained an injunction issued by the 11th US circuit court of appeals, saying he couldn’t be executed without his pastor present in the chamber.
Department of corrections spokeswoman Samantha Rose said the execution wouldn’t proceed given the ruling.
Alabama has said that non-prison staff shouldn’t be in the room for security reasons.
Justice Elena Kagan wrote in an opinion accompanied by three other justices, including Amy Coney Barrett that Willie Smith has been condemned to death, and his last wish was to have his pastor with him as he departs this world.
Justice Elena Kagan said that Alabama had not carried its burden of showing that the exclusion of all clergy members from the execution chamber was necessary to ensure prison security. So, the state couldn’t now execute Willie Smith without his pastor present, to ease what Willie Smith calls the transition between the worlds of the living and the dead.
The case was the latest in a string of legal battles over personal spiritual advisers at executions.
The court in 2019 stayed the execution of a Texas prisoner who maintained his religious freedom would be violated if his Buddist spiritual adviser wasn’t allowed to be in the death chamber with him.
Brett Kavanaugh suggested in a dissent that states that wanted to evade litigation on the matter should figure out a way to allow spiritual advisors into the execution room, as other states and the federal government have done.
Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch didn’t reveal how they voted, but both would have had to side with Brett Kavanaugh, John Roberts, and Clarence Thomas for the execution to continue.
If the execution had gone ahead, it would have been the first by a state in 2021 and one of the few at the state level since the inception of the COVID 19 pandemic last year, and according to the Death Penalty Information Centre, no state has had an execution since 8 July.
A prison spokeswoman said that afterwards, Willie Smith was taken from a holding cell near the execution chamber and returned to his cell on death row.
Capital punishment is the barbarism that lowers society to the level of its most dangerous criminals because nobody has the God-given right to kill another human being and it just lowers ourselves to their level of brutality.
However, that said, Willie Smith was convicted of killing a Birmingham woman almost 30 years ago, and he was condemned to death in 1992 for the October 1991 abduction, robbery and murder of Sharma Ruth Johnson who was shot execution-style at a cemetery. Her body was found in the trunk of her burned-out car with a shotgun wound to her head, and I’m sure that when he shot her in the head he didn’t ask her if she wanted her pastor there.