Alabama calls off execution after Supreme Court rules it cannot proceed without inmate’s pastor present


Undated photo of Willie B. Smith provided by the Alabama Department of Corrections.

ATMORE, Ala. (NewsNation Now) — An Alabama inmate has won a reprieve from a scheduled execution.

The lethal injection of Willie B. Smith III was called off late Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court maintained an injunction saying he could not be executed without his pastor present in the chamber. The state prison system said the execution would not proceed given the ruling.

Smith, 51, was sentenced to death for the 1991 murder of 22-year-old Sharma Ruth Johnson in Birmingham.

Alabama has maintained that non-prison staff should not be in the room for security reasons.

Prosecutors said Smith abducted Johnson at gunpoint in October 1991 as she waited to use an ATM in Birmingham, forced her into the trunk of a car and withdrew $80 using her bank card. Prosecutors said he then took her to a cemetery, where he shot her in the back of the head and later returned to set the car on fire.

A jury convicted Smith in 1992 in the death of Johnson, who was the sister of a Birmingham police detective.

Read the full Supreme Court opinion denying the application to vacate the injuction:

The Associated Press contributed to this report; all reporting by AP’s Kim Chandler

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