Alabama Man Executed After Supreme Court Split

(CN) – An Alabama man was executed Thursday night for a 1994 murder after the U.S. Supreme Court justices  split, 4-4, on the question of whether to prevent his death.

Ronald Smith Jr., 45, was executed for the 1994 capital murder of convenience store clerk Casey Wilson. The murder was made capital on the grounds that it was committed during an attempted robbery at the store.

In his petition to the Supreme Court, Smith challenged the constitutionality of the state’s capital sentencing scheme, which allows for a judicial override in cases where the jury has recommended life in prison.

In Smith’s case, the jury recommended 7-5 that he be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The trial court, however, overruled the recommendation and sentenced him to death.

In a 1995 sentencing order, the judge weighed heavily the heinousness of the crime, finding that the victim had already been “beaten into helpless submission” before being killed by Smith.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court twice temporarily stayed the execution before finally denying the appeal.

A similar sentencing scheme was recently struck down in the state of Florida in Hurst v. Florida. The Alabama Supreme Court, however, has upheld the Alabama system, making it the only one of its kind in the country.

Smith was put to death by lethal injection at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Ala. The execution began at 10:25 p.m. and ended approximately 40 minutes later at 11:05.

It was the state’s second execution this year. Death row inmate Christopher Brooks was put to death in January.

In a statement released following Smith’s execution, Ala. Attorney General Luther Strange said, “For more than two decades Ronald Bert Smith has avoided justice for the cold-blooded murder of Casey Wilson, who was first pistol-whipped and shot in the arm after refusing to open a convenience store cash register and then shot in the head and left to die. The trial court described Smith’s acts as ‘an execution-style slaying.’ Tonight, justice was finally served.”

Last week, Smith’s attorneys unsuccessfully petitioned Ala. Gov. Robert Bentley for clemency.

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