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Intellectually Disabled Black Man To Be Executed Before Having Chance To Appeal

by : Hannah Smith on : 21 Oct 2021 13:16
Intellectually Disabled Black Man To Be Executed Before Having Chance To AppealAlabama Department Of Corrections/Alamy

An Alabama man is set to be executed today despite having a trial scheduled next year to hear whether government officials denied him his federal disability rights.

Willie Smith was sentenced to death for the 1991 murder of Sharma Ruth Johnson in Birmingham, Alabama, with his execution by lethal injection scheduled for 6.00pm Eastern Time today, October 21.

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However, lawyers for Smith, who is intellectually disabled with an IQ of 70 and the reading ability of a child, say that the Department of Corrections failed to provide ‘accommodation’ for Smith under the American Disabilities Act when he was given a form to fill in to select the method of execution.

Lethal Injection chamber (Alamy)Alamy

A federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of Smith in 2019 claiming he was not given the time to consider the form with his attorneys, however with the hearing of the case set for June 2022, Smith is set to be executed despite having an active lawsuit challenging the process.

Lawyers representing Smith have filed an emergency federal appeal asking for a stay of execution until the lawsuit can be heard, calling the Department of Correction’s actions ‘disturbing.’

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Attorney John Palombi told The Independent:

The fact that the Department of Corrections did not provide him an accommodation, and is now actively fighting him about this accommodation is disturbing.

Even more disturbing is that despite the fact that this case has been pending since November 2019, was actively in the discovery phase of proceedings, and is scheduled for a trial on Mr Smith’s claims in June 2022, the State has chosen to attempt to execute him now, while his meritorious lawsuit is pending.

Alabama's Criminal Justice Centre (Alamy)Alamy

Smith’s case was previously thrown out by a lower court, with Alabama’s attorney general saying in a statement on Wednesday, October 20, that despite his disabilities the state ‘was not required to provide him an ‘accommodation’ to place him in a better position than other inmates on death row.’

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The legal battle comes after Smith was granted an initial stay of execution in February this year, after the US Supreme Court ruled that he should be allowed to have his pastor in the room with him during his execution.

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Hannah Smith

Hannah is a London-based journalist covering news and features for UNILAD. She's especially interested in social and political activism.

Topics: News, Alabama, death penalty, execution, Now

Credits

The Independent
  1. The Independent

    Willie Smith: Alabama is a day away from executing a mentally disabled Black man before he can appeal