Alabama executioner Willie B. Smith III has been questioned about his mental capacity, nitrogen hypoxia, and nitrogen inability
Federal judges heard arguments on Wednesday about whether an Alabama inmate had the mental capacity to read the paperwork setting up his planned execution next week, with a defense lawyer arguing the mans cognitive impairments warrant disability assistance.
Willie B. Smith III, who was convicted of a womans 1991 kidnap and murder, is appealing his conviction. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal is reviewing an appeal. His lawyer claims the man has an IQ in the 70s and should have received assistance under the Americans with Disabilities Act to understand a document pertaining to the selection of an execution method.
Sharma Ruth Johnson, 22, of Smith's death will receive a lethal injection on Oct. 21. Smith allegedly took Johnson at gunpoint from an ATM in Birmingham, stole $80 from her, and took her to a cemetery where he shot her in the back of the head.
This is Alabama's second attempt to execute Smith'' sentence this year. The state cut off prior execution plans last Feb. 12, after the Supreme Court upheld an injunction that he could not be executed without his pastor. The reprieve was given the same night of his planned lethal injection, as he waited in a holding cell near the death chamber.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, also known as ADA, prohibits discrimination based on disability.
Smiths attorneys argued a federal judge wrongly dismissed skepticism over alleged claims that he needed assistance under the federal disability act last month. But the state maintained that it was the legal correct decision.
The oral arguments on Wednesday focused on what, if any, obligations the state had in helping state inmates understand a brief window in which they could alter their requested execution method.
He will be executed by lethal injection in eight days if he doesn't win this case, attorney Spencer Hahn told the appellate committee. Mr. Smith had, and has, cognitive impairments such that he could not and cannot make the decision to employ a method of execution without reasonable accommodation.
In Alabama, lethal injection is the most common execution technique. But, after lawmakers approved nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method in 2018, the new law gave death row inmates a 30-day window to choose nitrogen hyperxia.
The Federal Defenders for the Middle District of Alabama, which defend death row inmates but werent representing Smith at the time, drafted an election form for their clients to request nitrogen. The prison warden then gave each death row inmate a copy of the document.
Smith did not turn in a nitrogen form. The federal government hasn't developed a method for using nitrogen as an execution method, and at least for the moment, it's not scheduling executions with nitrogen hypoxia.
In dismissing the lawsuit last month, a judge said that state law does not require, direct, or sanction the form, and that Smith could opt into execution by nitrogen hypoxia for the entire month of June 2018, both before and after this form was distributed, through any writing he chose.
Smiths attorneys in their appeal asked how an inmate who has been segregated and locked-down; 23 hours a day for almost 30 years with, at best, an IQ of 72 could have and should have known about alterations in Alabama law.
Smith is disabled, according to the state's attorneys.
Smith didn't indicate he wanted nitrogen, according to the state, since the form was not required by state law.
Smith also had a conversation with his then-lawyer in 2018, when the form was distributed, according to an attorney for the state.
He talked to his lawyer in June: Nothing, Alabama solicitor general Edmund G. LaCour told the panel. He had access to assistance. Its as simple as day.