Alabama man executed for 1991 killing of police officer’s sister after February delay

Defendant Willie Smith's date with death was delayed in February after he appealed a decision blocking him from having his pastor present

A death-row inmate in Alabama whose execution was delayed in February was put to death in the state on Thursday night, according to a report.

Willie B. Smith III, 52, had been convicted after being charged in the 1991 shooting death of Sharma Ruth Johnson, 22, in Birmingham after he abducted her, authorities have said.

He gave no last words, The Associated Press reported.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statement claiming Smith sealed his own fate on the day he pulled the trigger, killing Johnson, who was the sister of a Birmingham police officer.

DEATH ROW INMATES' LAST WORDS

"In that final moment of that young lady’s short life, Mr. Smith … made the choice to put a shotgun to her head, stealing this woman’s future," the governor wrote, according to AL.com.

The office of Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall also issued a statement.

"The family of Sharma Johnson has had to wait 29 years, 11 months, and 25 days to see the sentence of Sharma’s murderer be carried out," Marshall wrote, according to AL.com. "Finally, the cruel and unusual punishment that has been inflicted upon them – a decadeslong denial of justice – has come to an end."

"The family of Sharma Johnson has had to wait 29 years, 11 months, and 25 days to see the sentence of Sharma’s murderer be carried out." 

— Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall

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Smith had been scheduled to die in February but the case was delayed after Smith appealed a decision blocking him from having his pastor present for the execution. The U.S. Supreme Court later agreed with his appeal.

Willie Smith III.

Willie Smith III. ((Alabama Department of Corrections))

On Thursday, however, the nation’s highest court did not stand in the way and Smith received a lethal injection in a prison in southwest Alabama, the AP reported. Smith was declared dead at 9:47 p.m., the report said.

The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a request for a stay of execution filed by Smith’s lawyers, who claimed the defendant should be spared death because of an intellectual disability, the AP reported.

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Prosecutors have said that Smith, armed with a shotgun, abducted Johnson at an ATM location in Birmingham, withdrew money using her bank card, then took her to a cemetery and shot her in the back of her head, according to the AP.

Experts had claimed during Smith’s trial that his IQ ranged from 64-75, but a defense expert argued that Smith’s language, reading and math skills appeared to contradict that assessment.

Citing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, the Alabama Department of Corrections limited media witnesses to the execution to just an AP reporter, with no other members of the press able to attend, the AP reported.