Defenders of a condemned inmate in Alabama call his execution an “avoidable disaster,” but the state prison commissioner says there was no visible evidence that he suffered during a lethal injection, the Associated Press reports. Ronald Bert Smith Jr. coughed, and his upper body heaved repeatedly, for the first 13 minutes as he was being sedated. His arms appeared to move slightly after two tests were administered to determine consciousness. Smith’s attorneys said the movements show he “was not anesthetized at any point during the agonizingly long procedure.” Alabama Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn disputes that Smith was in pain, saying Alabama properly followed a lethal injection protocol that has been upheld by the courts.
Smith’s final movements will be fiercely debated as Alabama resumes executions after years of litigation and a drug shortage created by campaigns against the death penalty. Inmate advocates argue that Alabama’s process is too flawed and secretive, raising the risk of botched executions. “No autopsy can measure the extent of Ron Smith’s suffering as he died. We are profoundly disappointed that the state and courts failed to intervene at any stage and take steps to prevent this avoidable disaster. We will continue our own efforts to make sure this suffering does not occur again,” said Smith’s lawyers with the Alabama Federal Defenders Program. This was Alabama’s second execution using midazolam to render an inmate unconscious before injections of rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride to stop the lungs and heart.