New court records from attorneys for death row inmate Willie B. Smith III indicate that the Alabama Department of Corrections ‘new coronavirus execution protocol still violates their clients’ constitutional rights.
Smith’s attorneys claim he is being treated differently from other death row inmates due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Smith is due to be killed on February 11th in the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore.
Smith was convicted of the kidnapping, robbery and murder of 22-year-old Sharma Ruth Johnson in October 1991.
In federal court filings filed on February 7, Smith’s federal defense attorneys for the Middle District of Alabama argue that the changes made by the ADOC in response to a previous complaint and an urgency motion to suspend the execution still violate Smith’s rights .
The ADOC made two changes to its original COVID-19 log, according to new documents filed on Sunday:
- Witnesses or visitors who test positive may take an independently obtained negative test to gain access to Smith.
- If Smith’s spiritual advisor tests positive for COVID-19 or is unable to enter because of a temperature greater than 100.4 ° C, the chaplain of Holman Prison may stand in the counselor’s place.
There are a number of problems Smith’s attorneys have with the changes.
The first issue they address in the lawsuit is that the revisions do not indicate whether Smith will be killed if he tests positive for COVID-19 before his execution. His attorneys also want to know what will happen if Smith’s recognized witnesses are unable to attend the execution.
Smith’s attorneys claim that allowing the officer performing a mind test to remove his PPE during the execution if it obstructs the officer’s view is still problematic. According to court documents, his attorneys believe there is a possibility that Smith may face cruel and unusual punishment during the drug administration portion of the execution. Mind testing is a standard ADOC procedure to ensure the inmate is unconscious after the first drug, Midzalom, and before the next two drugs are injected.
Eventually, Smith’s attorneys say it is a violation of Smith’s rights to have only three witnesses present for the execution, as other executed inmates were allowed to have more than that number. The ADOC claims the three-witness rule is a measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“Mr. Smith is entitled to a stay of execution,” the file states. Smith’s execution should be suspended to give him a fair opportunity to challenge the state’s acceptance of the Smith Addendum, which implies his constitutional rights. “