A man who killed an Alabama convenience store clerk more than two decades ago was put to death last night. The execution required two consciousness tests as the inmate heaved and coughed 13 minutes into the lethal injection, the Associated Press reports. Ronald Bert Smith Jr., 45, was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m., about 30 minutes after the procedure began. Smith was convicted of capital murder in the Nov. 8, 1994, fatal shooting of Huntsville store clerk Casey Wilson. A jury voted 7-5 for life imprisonment, but a judge overrode that recommendation and sentenced Smith to death.
In overriding the jury’s recommendation in the 1995 trial, a judge likened the slaying to an execution, saying Wilson had already been pistol-whipped into submission and Smith ignored his pleas for mercy. U.S. Supreme Court justices twice paused the execution as Smith’s attorneys argued for a delay, saying a judge shouldn’t have been able to impose the death penalty when a jury recommended he receive life imprisonment. The four more-liberal justices said they would have halted the execution, but five were needed to do so. The high court this year struck down Florida’s death penalty structure because it gave too much power to judges. In Alabama, a jury can recommend a sentence of life without parole, but a judge can override that recommendation to impose a death sentence. Alabama is the only state that allows judicial override, Smith’s attorneys said.