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Alabama execution postponed for botched IV after justices give green light

The man convicted of killing a pastor's wife had fought execution policies in Alabama and lost, but a failed IV placement wound up delaying his execution. 

WASHINGTON (CN) — Unable to establish an IV line, Alabama on Thursday night called off its second execution in three months only hours after the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority gave the state the go-ahead.

The U.S. Supreme Court lifted a stay on the execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith that had been previously granted by the 11th Circuit. The court’s three liberal justices — Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson — dissented from the ruling. 

Smith argues that he should not have to face a death sentence for the 1988 murder-for-hire killing of a pastor’s wife because a capital jury advised against it during his sentencing. The trial court that sentenced Smith to death had overruled an 11-1 vote to sentence Smith to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Trial judges disregarding sentencing determinations is an antiquated practice across the country and has not been used in the state of Alabama since 2017. 

The court’s Thursday night ruling was the second time the justices had ruled on Smith’s execution this week. Earlier in the week, the high court declined to halt Smith’s execution to review his claims that his sentence violated his Eighth and 14th Amendment rights.

Following the justices' ruling, Smith, 57, challenged his execution based on concerns with the state’s execution policies. Alabama has been criticized for what appear to be botched executions. Smith alleges that the state’s July execution of Joe Nathan James took over three hours — one of the longest in history. The lack of public documentation of James’ execution leaves many questions open about what happened to James, but Smith cites an independent autopsy that showed James’ arm had been cut open, and he had multiple puncture wounds — both against the state’s protocols. 

Smith cites the state’s even more recent unsuccessful attempt to execute Alan Miller. In his testimony of what happened during the state’s attempted execution, Miller described being strapped to a table and poked with needles in his arms, hands and feet for nearly two hours while prison officials attempted to insert IVs into him. Miller claims the gurney he was strapped to was later lifted in an upright position, leaving him to hang vertically while blood leaked from his wounds. 

A federal judge declined to halt Smith’s execution to review the state’s execution practices, but he found relief at the 11th Circuit. When the justices cleared the way for Smith’s execution to continue despite the appeals court ruling, Smith’s execution went forward. Just prior to midnight, however, Smith’s execution would be postponed after prison officials were unable to secure a second IV site to complete the procedure. The Alabama Department of Corrections said officials attempted to insert the IV for about an hour before deciding their time had run out. 

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