BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (WIAT) – Facing a court challenge, the state of Alabama has said it will allow Willie B. Smith’s six designated witnesses to attend his execution, which is slated for Oct. 21.
Smith was convicted almost three decades ago for the 1991 murder of Sharma Ruth Johnson, the sister of a Birmingham police detective.
State attorneys announced the change in witness attendance at a hearing on Friday, according to a federal advocate working on the case. Prison officials had previously said they would limit the number of witnesses Smith could have presented for his death, citing concerns about the spread of COVID-19.
Before Friday’s hearing, lawyers for Willie B. Smith had asked the court for a preliminary injunction that would have prevented his execution “without the presence of all those named by Mr. Smith as witnesses”, as guaranteed by law. ‘Alabama.
“While the need for COVID-19 measures is obvious, a global pandemic does not grant ADOC the power to trample on Mr. Smith’s rights,” the record says, “including his statutory right to have six witnesses of his choice present at his execution. “
Lawyers for the state said at the hearing that Smith’s designated witnesses would only be allowed to attend if they signed a waiver, a federal advocate said.
However, authorities did not announce any change in press access to execution, which was limited to one journalist: a representative of the Associated Press. Media across the state opposed the press restriction.
Lawyers for Smith, whose IQ is around 70, appealed an earlier ruling dismissing his claims that officials violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Barring further legal action, however, Smith’s execution will take place on October 21.
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