A man who killed an Alabama convenience store clerk more than two decades ago was put to death Thursday night, an execution that required two consciousness tests as the inmate heaved and coughed 13 minutes into the lethal injection. Ronald Bert Smith Jr., 45, was pronounced dead at 11:05pm, about 30 minutes after the procedure began at the state prison in southwest Alabama. Smith was convicted of capital murder in the Nov. 8, 1994, fatal shooting of Huntsville store clerk Casey Wilson. A jury voted 7-5 to recommend a sentence of life imprisonment, but a judge overrode that recommendation and sentenced Smith to death. Smith, who pistol-whipped Wilson and shot him in the head, replied, "No ma'am" when asked by the prison warden if he had any final words.
US Supreme Court justices put the execution on hold twice Thursday as Smith's attorneys argued for a delay, saying a judge shouldn't have been able to impose the death penalty when a jury recommended he receive life imprisonment. Four liberal justices said they would have halted the execution, but five were needed to do so. As the execution began, Smith heaved and coughed repeatedly, clenching his fists and raising his head, the AP reports. A prison guard performed two consciousness checks before the final two lethal drugs were administered. During the first one, Smith moved his arm, according to the AP. He slightly raised his right arm again after the second consciousness test. The state prison commissioner said he did not see any reaction. "We do know we followed our protocol. We are absolutely convinced of that," Alabama Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said. (Read more execution stories.)