Alabama: Inmate Willie B. Smith’s Pastor Can Anoint Him, Hold His Hand During Execution

Willie B. Smith III
Willie B. Smith III. (Photo: Alabama Department of Corrections)

Alabama said it will allow a death row inmate’s pastor to hold his hand during a lethal injection next month, a decision that was made to end litigation over the issue.

Lawyers for Alabama wrote in a June court document that inmates can now have a personal spiritual adviser present with them in the execution chamber and the adviser will be allowed to touch them. The agreement settled litigation over Alabama inmate Willie Smith’s request to have his personal pastor with him as he is put to death. Smith was convicted of the 1991 kidnapping and murder of 22-year-old Sharma Ruth Johnson in Birmingham.

According to court documents, Smith’s spiritual adviser can: anoint the inmate’s head with oil; pray with the inmate and hold his hand as the execution begins, as long as the adviser steps away before the consciousness assessment is performed; and remain in the execution chamber until the curtains to the witness rooms are drawn. The description was included in a footnote in a joint filing in June by the state and Smith’s attorneys in which the two sides announced they had reached an agreement over the spiritual adviser issue.

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