Witness: Condemned Alabama man coughed, heaved during execution
Jason Hanna, CNN
(CNN) — An Alabama death row inmate coughed and heaved for about 13 minutes during his execution by lethal injection on Thursday night, AL.com reported.
Ronald B. Smith, convicted in Alabama of a 1994 robbery and murder, was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m. CT, 34 minutes after the execution began at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, according to AL.com, whose reporter Kent Faulk was present.
During a 13-minute span toward the start of the process, Smith “appeared to be struggling for breath and heaved and coughed and clenched his left fist,” and his left eye appeared to be slightly open at times, AL.com reported.
These things appeared to have happened after the first of three drugs was administered, according to the report.
Two consciousness checks — which in part included an officer pinching Smith — were performed before the next two drugs were given; he heaved, coughed and gasped after the first test, and his right arm and hand moved after the second test, according to AL.com.
Eventually, two other drugs were given to stop his breathing and his heart, according to AL.com.
After the execution, a reporter asked Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn about Smith’s apparent struggle for breath during the process.
“There will be an autopsy that will be done on Mr. Smith, and if there were any irregularities or anything, then that would be shown or borne out in the autopsy,” Dunn said.
Supreme Court delayed execution twice Thursday
Smith’s execution came only after the US Supreme Court twice delayed the execution, but then allowed it to proceed, amid a flurry of last-minute motions and orders.
Smith was convicted in Alabama in the 1994 death of Casey Wilson, a convenience store clerk.
Lawyers for Smith argued that he shouldn’t be executed, in part because the jury rendered a verdict of life without parole. The death sentence came from the trial court, which overrode the jury’s verdict.
Smith argued that he should be given life without parole, in part because Alabama’s sentencing scheme is similar to that of Florida’s, which the Supreme Court struck down in an opinion called Hurst v. Florida.
Lawyers for Alabama stressed that Hurst v. Florida has no retroactive application to Smith.