ATMORE, Alabama. — An Alabama inmate on Thursday won a reprieve from a scheduled lethal injection after the United States Supreme Court said the state must allow his personal spiritual adviser in the death chamber.
ABC News reports that the lethal injection of Willie B. Smith III was called off by Alabama after justices maintained an injunction issued by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals saying he could not be executed without his pastor present in chamber.
Alabama currently does not allow non-prison staff in the execution area for security reasons.
“Willie Smith is sentenced to death, and his last wish is to have his pastor with him as he dies,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in an opinion joined by three other justices.
Amy Coney Barrett joined Kagan in the decision.
“Alabama has not carried its burden of showing that the exclusion of all clergy members from the execution chamber is necessary to ensure prison security. So the State cannot now execute Smith without his pastor present, to ease what Smith calls the ‘transition between the worlds of the living and the dead.’” Kagan wrote.
Smith, 51, had been scheduled to receive a lethal injection at a south Alabama prison for the 1991 murder of 22-year-old Sharma Ruth Johnson in Birmingham.
Prosecutors said Smith abducted Johnson at gunpoint from an ATM, stole $80 from her and then took her to a cemetery where he shot her in the back of the head.
In the past, Alabama routinely put an employed Christian prison chaplain, in the execution chamber to pray with an inmate if requested. The state stopped that practice after a Muslim inmate asked to have an imam present. The prison system, which did not have Muslim cleric on staff, said non-prison staff would not be allowed in the chamber.