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The synthetic painkiller fentanyl has been the driving force behind the nation’s opioid epidemic, killing tens of thousands of Americans last year in overdoses. Now two states want to use the drug’s powerful properties for a new purpose: to execute prisoners on death row.
As Nevada and Nebraska push for the country’s first fentanyl-assisted executions, doctors and death penalty opponents are fighting those plans. They have warned that such an untested use of fentanyl could lead to painful, botched executions, comparing the use of it and other new drugs proposed for lethal injection to human experimentation.
States are increasingly pressed for ways to carry out the death penalty because of problems obtaining the drugs they long have used, primarily because pharmaceutical companies are refusing to supply their drugs for executions.
The situation has led states such as Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma to turn to novel drug combinations for executions. Mississippi legalized nitrogen gas this s…

Alabama executes Ronald Smith

Ronald Smith
Ronald Smith
Ronald Smith executed for 1994 capital murder

Ronald Smith was executed Thursday night for committing capital murder in 1994. He was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m.

Media witnesses said Smith gasped and coughed for 13 minutes of execution, which began at 10:25 and ended at 11:05.

He was twice administered a consciousness check, and gave a level of reaction media witnesses who have covered several executions say they have never seen.

It is the Alabama Department of Corrections' protocol to give a consciousness check after the 1st drug in the 3-drug lethal injection is given. The 1st drug is meant to anesthetize inmate's beyond consciousness. The 2nd drug is a paralytic and the third stops the heart.

The 1st conscious check was at 10:37, the 2nd was at 10:46, ADOC spokesman Bob Horton said. Kent Faulk, an al.com reporter who witnessed Smith's execution along with 2 other lethal injection executions said this was the 1st time he has seen a consciousness check given twice.

Smith's family did not attend the execution. One member of the victim's family who wished to not be identified was present.

His was the 2nd execution in Alabama this year; Christopher Brooks was executed in January for a 1992 rape and murder.

Shortly after his arrest, Smith confessed to killing and attempting to rob Wilson, a convenience store clerk and new father.

A Madison County jury found 24-year-old Smith guilty of capital murder. They voted 7-5 to sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

2 months later, the judge overrode their decision and gave him death. He cited the "particularly heinous" nature of the crime, pointing to evidence that indicated Smith killed Wilson "execution style."

Alabama is the last state in the country that allows a judge to override a jury's recommended sentence.

In January, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Hurst v. Florida that Florida's sentencing scheme, which also allowed judicial override, was unconstitutional.

Following Hurst, The Delaware Supreme Court found that its sentencing scheme that also let judges override juries was also unconstitutional.

Smith's attorneys petitioned SCOTUS to stay the execution in light of Hurst. Despite issuing two temporary stays in the hours leading up to Smith's execution, the high court ultimately denied his appeal in a 4-4 split.

They filed another appeal asking the court to stay the execution that would have challenged the state's lethal injection protocol. The U.S. Supreme Court denied that petition as well.

Less than a month ago, SCOTUS issued a stay of execution for Thomas Arthur, who had also challenged the death penalty protocol in a complaint separate from Smith's.

The justices were again split 4-4 on whether to issue a stay, but Chief Justice John Roberts then cast a courtesy vote, allowing Arthur's execution to be delayed.

It was the 7th time Arthur avoided execution.

Both suits alleged that Alabama's death penalty process would cause cruel and unusual pain because the 1st drug administered does not properly anesthetize the condemned before injecting the 2nd and 3rd drugs. Without proper anesthetization, condemned inmates would feel burning and paralyzing sensations caused by the 2nd and 3rd drugs.

U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins ultimately ruled against Smith.

Smith's attorneys appealed his decision to the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, but that court upheld Watkins' decision.

Prior to his execution, Smith met with his mother, father, son and 4 friends. He was served a last meal at 2:34 p.m. He declined breakfast.

A practicing Methodist, 45-year-old Smith asked to receive Holy Communion at 3:30 p.m. Department of Corrections Spokesman Bob Horton said his request was granted.

Smith becomes the 2nd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Alabama and the 58th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1983. Smith becomes the 20th and last person to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1442nd overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Sources: Montgomery Advertiser, Rick Halperin, December 8, 2016

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