Ronald Smith Put to Death in Controversial Execution

Dec 9, 2016

Death chamber at Holman Correctional Facility near Atmore, Ala.

Alabama death row inmate Ronald Bert Smith was executed last night for the 1994 killing of a Huntsville man.

But the way he died may lend additional support to those attempting to outlaw the use of the sedative midazolam in a three-drug lethal injection cocktail. During the 34-minute execution last night at Holman Correctional Facility, Smith reportedly coughed and heaved for nearly 15 minutes.

Smith’s attorneys had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to block the execution, arguing he was wrongly sentenced to death due to Alabama’s unusual policy where a judge can override a jury verdict. After two temporary stays, the court eventually refused to stop the execution. reports two of Smith’s lawyers attended the execution and were clearly bothered by the proceedings. At one point while Smith was struggling for breath, one reportedly said to the other that a contingency plan was needed in those circumstances.

Alabama Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn says the execution went according to plan, saying “We followed our protocol.” Dunn says there was no discussion about stopping the execution once Smith began coughing and struggling for breath. The state will perform an autopsy on Smith’s body to look for any irregularities in the execution.