An Alabama inmate was executed Thursday night after the U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked on a stay of execution.
Robert Bert Smith Jr. was executed at the Holman Correctional Facility by lethal injection. AL.com reports that during the 34-minute execution, Smith heaved and coughed for about 13 minutes and underwent two consciousness tests to make sure he couldn’t feel pain.
Smith, 45, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death for the 1994 slaying of Huntsville convenience store clerk Casey Wilson during a robbery. According to a statement from Attorney General Luther Strange, Wilson was pistol-whipped and shot in the arm by Smith after he refused to open the store cash register. Smith then shot Wilson in the head and left him to die.
Smith’s execution was originally scheduled to take place at at 6 p.m. Thursday. The U.S. Supreme Court granted two temporary stays but ultimately voted to deny Smith’s request to delay the execution so that the high court could consider his appeals. A third request by Smith’s attorneys seeking to challenge Alabama’s three-drug method of execution was also denied.
According to AL.com, Smith’s last words were “No, ma’am” when he was asked by the warden if he wanted to make a statement, but he continued to move his lips before and after the drugs were administered. He was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m.
Smith filed a lawsuit challenging Alabama’s lethal-injection protocol, claiming that the first drug, which is used to sedate inmates, may not prevent them from feeling the burning sensation that the second two drugs cause.
His claim was likely correct, because AL.com reports that for 13 minutes of the execution, from 10:34 to 10:47, Smith appeared to be struggling for breath, and he heaved and coughed after the first drug was administered. He also clenched his left fist, and his left eye appeared to be slightly open.
A Department of Corrections captain performed two consciousness checks on Smith prior to administering the final two drugs to stop his breathing and heart. Those checks consisted of calling Smith’s name, brushing his eyebrows back and pinching him under his left arm.
According to AL.com, Smith continued to heave, gasp and cough after the first check was performed at 10:37 p.m. and again at 10:47 p.m. After the second check, Smith’s right arm and hand moved.
The Los Angeles Times called the execution “cruel and unusual” in an op-ed piece Friday, stating that it was a “difficult death” that “added another layer of barbarity to an inherently barbaric practice.”
Although none of Smith’s family members were present at the execution, two of his attorneys were, and AL.com reports that at one point while Smith was struggling, one of the attorneys said out loud that he and and another attorney had warned prison officials that a contingency plan was needed if an inmate struggled like that.
Although reports of Smith’s difficulty during the execution were corroborated by both the Associated Press and the Chicago Tribune, Alabama Prison Commissioner Jeff Dunn contradicted those account: “From where I was seated, I didn’t see any reaction to the consciousness assessments.”
An autopsy will be performed on Smith’s body to provide information on any irregularities in the execution.
"For more than two decades, Ronald Bert Smith has avoided justice for the cold-blooded murder of Casey Wilson, who was first pistol-whipped and shot in the arm after refusing to open a convenience store cash register and then shot in the head and left to die. The trial court described Smith's acts as ‘an execution-style slaying.’ Tonight, justice was finally served," Attorney General Luther Strange said in a statement issued after the execution.
Read more at AL.com.