Late Thursday night, Alabama executed Ronald Bert Smith Jr., 45, for the 1994 fatal shooting of Casey Wilson, a store clerk in Huntsville who was pistol-whipped before being shot. Smith was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m., about half an hour after prison officials began the three-drug cocktail to end his life. He coughed, heaved, and clenched his fists for the first 13 minutes of the execution, and the prison officials injected the final two lethal drugs after two indeterminate consciousness checks to make sure he was sedated. The Alabama prison commissioner said he did not see any movement after the second test, but according to The Associated Press, he raised his arm slightly in both tests.
Smith was sentenced to death by a judge despite the jury's 7-5 recommendation that he be given life without parole. Smith's case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which twice paused the execution. Finally, the high court split 4-4 on Thursday evening, with the four liberal justices voting for a stay of execution; five votes were needed. Alabama's death penalty system is the only one in the country that still allows a judge to override a jury.