Alabama inmate coughs, heaves, during execution by injection
Thirteen minutes into his execution by injection, an Alabama inmate heaved and coughed and appeared to move during tests meant to determine consciousness. Ronald Bert Smith Jr, 45, was finally pronounced dead at 11:05 pm Thursday night - about 30 minutes after the procedure began at the state prison in southwest Alabama.
Alabama uses the sedative midazolam as the first drug in a three-drug lethal injection combination. Smith and other inmates argued in a court case that the drug was an unreliable sedative and could cause them to feel pain, citing its use in problematic executions. The US Supreme Court has upheld the use of the drug.
Smith was convicted of capital murder in the Nov 8, 1994, fatal shooting of Huntsville store clerk Casey Wilson. A jury voted 7-5 to recommend a sentence of life imprisonment, but a judge overrode that recommendation and sentenced Smith to death. At the beginning of his execution, Smith heaved and coughed repeatedly, clenching his fists and raising his head. A prison guard performed two consciousness checks before the final two lethal drugs were administered. In a consciousness test, a prison officer says the inmate’s name, brushes his eyelashes and then pinches his left arm. During the first one, Smith moved his arm. He slightly raised his right arm again after the second consciousness test.
The meaning of those movements will likely be debated. One of Smith’s attorneys whispered to another attorney, “He’s reacting,” and pointed out the inmate’s repeated movements. —AP
Ronald Bert Smith