Tags: US | Death Penalty | Alabama

Supreme Court Pauses Alabama Execution of Convicted Murderer

Thursday, 08 Dec 2016 08:21 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday paused Alabama's plans to execute a man convicted of killing a convenience store clerk, acting after defense lawyers argued that a judge unfairly imposed the death penalty after a jury recommended life in prison.

A statement from Justice Clarence Thomas said without explanation that a temporary stay was ordered "pending further order" of the court. The stay was only expected to give justices more time to consider the arguments. Further court action was awaited Thursday evening before the expiration of the inmate's death warrant at midnight CST.

Ronald Bert Smith Jr., 45, was set to receive a lethal injection Thursday evening for the Nov. 8, 1994, shooting death of Huntsville store clerk Casey Wilson. It would be Alabama's second execution this year if carried out.

Wilson was pistol-whipped and then shot through the head during the robbery, court documents show. Surveillance video showed Smith entering the store and recovering spent shell casings from the bathroom where Wilson was shot, according to the record.

A jury convicted Smith of capital murder in 1995 and recommended life imprisonment by a 7-5 vote, but the judge sentenced Smith to death.

Lawyers for Smith and the state submitted a flurry of last court filings over whether a judge should have sentenced Smith to death when a jury recommended life imprisonment. Smith's attorneys had urged the nation's highest court to block the planned execution to review the judge's override.

Smith's lawyers argued a January decision that struck down Florida's death penalty structure because it gave too much power to judges raises legal questions about Alabama's process. In Alabama, a jury can recommend a sentence of life without parole, but a judge can override that recommendation to impose a death sentence. Alabama is the only state that allows judicial override, they argued.

"Alabama is alone among the states in allowing a judge to sentence someone to death based on judicial fact finding contrary to a jury's verdict," attorneys for Smith wrote Wednesday.

Lawyers for the state argued in a court filing Tuesday that the sentence was legally sound, and that it is appropriate for judges to make the sentencing decision.

"A juror's sentencing decision is likely to be the only decision about criminal punishment he or she will ever make, and it will come at the end of an emotionally draining trial, which will often be the first and only such trial a juror will have seen," lawyers for the state wrote.

Judge Lynwood Smith, now a federal judge, sentenced Smith to death. He likened the killing to an execution, saying the store clerk was beaten into submission before being shot in the head in a crime that left an infant fatherless. In overriding the jury's recommendation, the judge also noted in court records that, unlike many other criminal court defendants, Ronald Smith came from a middle-class background that afforded him opportunities.

In a clemency petition to the governor, Smith's lawyers said he was an Eagle Scout at 15 and was the son of a NASA contract employee whose life spiraled downward because of alcoholism and emotional scars from an abusive home environment.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley had no plans to stop the execution, a spokeswoman said Thursday evening.

Smith had a final meal of fried chicken and French fries and was visited during the day by his parents and son.

Alabama has been attempting to resume executions after a lull caused by a shortage of execution drugs and litigation over the drugs used.

The state executed Christopher Eugene Brooks in January for the 1993 rape and beating death of a woman. It was the state's first execution since 2013. Judges stayed two other executions that had been scheduled this year.

© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 
1Like our page
2Share
US
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday paused Alabama's plans to execute a man convicted of killing a convenience store clerk, acting after defense lawyers argued that a judge unfairly imposed the death penalty after a jury recommended life in prison.A statement from Justice...
US, Death Penalty, Alabama
621
2016-21-08
Thursday, 08 Dec 2016 08:21 PM
Newsmax Inc.
 

Newsmax, Moneynews, Newsmax Health, and Independent. American. are registered trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc. Newsmax TV, and Newsmax World are trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc.

NEWSMAX.COM
America's News Page
© Newsmax Media, Inc.
All Rights Reserved