An execution scheduled for Thursday in Alabama despite the pandemic

Sylvie Claire / February 11, 2021



Alabama authorities plan to execute on Thursday, despite the coronavirus pandemic, an African-American man sentenced to death for the murder of a white woman 30 years ago.


However, a legal battle, including the health context, is ongoing and the fate of Willie Smith, 52, is likely to be decided at the last minute by the U.S. Supreme Court.


If he is not granted a stay, he will receive a lethal injection in the evening at Holman Penitentiary in Atmore. He is believed to be the first death row in Alabama to be executed since the Covid-19 eruption.


In 1991, Willie Smith abducted a 22-year-old woman in front of a vending machine. At gunpoint, he forced her to give his credit card number and made a withdrawal of a hundred dollars under the watchful eye of a surveillance camera.


He then drove to a cemetery and shot his victim, a police officer's sister, in the head. He put the body back in the young woman's car and set it on fire.


A year later, he was sentenced to death by ten out of twelve jurors, Alabama being one of the few American states to allow verdicts by non-unanimous juries.


Over the following decades, his lawyers challenged the decision, pointing out their client's intellectual disabilities, but were unable to get his sentence commuted.


As the date of execution approached, they filed a series of new appeals, in particular to contest the absence of a chaplain in the death chamber or the changes to the protocol adopted by the prison authorities because of Covid-19.


A federal appeals court ruled in their favour late Wednesday, but the state had to appeal.


Contrary to the states, which have not carried out any executions since July, Donald Trump's administration resumed federal executions during the summer and carried out 13 executions in seven months, including three in January 2021.


The arrival in the presidency of Democrat Joe Biden, an opponent of the death penalty, put an end to this unprecedented series.

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