Alabama Man Won't Be Executed After Legal Back-and-Forth Over Having Spiritual Adviser In Chamber

The execution of Willie B. Smith, 51, was called off
ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

In a last-minute move, an Alabama court has called off the execution of a man after the Supreme Court maintained that a pastor has to be present in the chamber. Willie B. Smith, 51, is the most recent case in a series of arguments over religious liberties and executions, CBS News reported

The lethal injection for Smith was tossed Thursday after an injunction issued by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals arguing against his execution in the absence of a pastor. According to Alabama law, only prison staff is allowed to be in the room for security purposes, the outlet reported. The Alabama attorney general said that his pastor could stand in an adjoining room, but Smith's attorney asserted that it still violated his constitutional freedom, NPR reported.

"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,'" Justice Elena Kagan wrote, the outlet reported.

The execution of a Texas inmate was put on hold after an inmate cited religious freedom when his Buddhist spiritual adviser was prohibited from being in the chamber with him, CBS reported.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh proposed that states can avoid future litigation on the issue by finding "a way to allow spiritual advisers in the execution room as other states and the federal government have done."

Smith was convicted in the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Sharma Ruth Johnson, the sister of a police detective, in Birmingham in 1991, CBS reported. Smith was accused of taking Johnson at gunpoint standing at an ATM, stealing $80 from her, and then shot her in the head at a cemetery.

No state has carried out an execution since last July 8, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

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