Willie Smith, Alabama


Updated: Friday, February 26, 2021

The state of Alabama is amending its execution protocol to, once again, allow spiritual advisors in the execution chamber.  This move comes after the Supreme Court of the United States stayed Willie Smith's execution because he argued that it was a violation of the religious freedoms to prevent him from having his pastor in the execution chamber to pray with him during his final moments.

Updated: Friday, February 12, 2021

The Supreme Court of the United States lifted the stay of execution previously granted to Willie Smith over concerns regarding his mental competency.  However, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to lift a lower court order halting the execution because Alabama would not permit Willie's pastor in the execution chamber with him, as it is a violation of The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which provides “expansive protection” for prisoners’ religious liberty.

Updated: Thursday, February 11, 2021

The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a stay of execution for Willie Smith, less than a day before his scheduled executed in Alabama.  The state is appealing the stay.  The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals granted the stay to allow time to determine "the question of whether a death-row prisoner is entitled to have his religious advisor present inside the execution chamber at the time of execution."  State law in Alabama currently prevents any spiritual advisor within the execution chamber, although they are allowed in the witness room.  Alabama had previously allowed some religious figures into the execution chamber, as they were members of the staff and conducted training, however after the state was sued over the policy being discriminatory and in violation of 1st Amendment rights, Alabama eliminated all religious figures from the execution chamber.  Willie is arguing, and the 11th Circuit agreed, that due to his beliefs, not allowing his spiritual advisor in the execution chamber is a violation of Willie's freedom to practice his religion up to the point of his death.

Updated: Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Middle District Court of Alabama has denied several requests to halt the execution of Willie Smith.  These requests to halt the execution have covered numerous issues including the coronavirus, the state's lethal injection protocol, and the alleged violation of Willie's rights.

Updated: Monday, February 8, 2021

Willie B. Smith, III, is scheduled to be executed at 6 pm local time on Thursday, February 11, 2021, at the Holeman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama. Fifty-one-year-old Willie is convicted of the robbery, kidnapping, and murder of 22-year-old Sharma Ruth Johnson in October 1991. Willie has been on death row in Alabama for the last 28 years.

Willie grew up with an allegedly abusive father and with no economical advantages. Willie did not excel in school. Willie did not have a previous history of criminal activity.

In October 1991, 17-year-old Angelica Willis was living with Willie Smith. The two left the apartment around midnight on October 26, 1991, looking for Smith’s brother, who was going to Pizza Hut. As they were walking, Willis and Smith saw Sharma Ruth Johnson sitting in car at an automatic teller machine.

Smith told Willis to go up to the woman ask for directions to a nearby restaurant. While Sharma was saying she did not know the location of the restaurant, Smith approached with a gun drawn. Smith stuck the gun in the window and demanded Sharma get out of the vehicle. Sharma complied and was placed in the trunk of her vehicle.

They drove around before returning the bank machine, retrieving Sharma’s bank card, and forcing her to reveal her PIN and how much money was in the account. Smith withdrew approximately $80.00 from the machine. The transaction was timestamped for Sunday, October 27, 1991, 1:25 am, and also photographed by the machine.


Smith continued driving with Sharma in the trunk, stopping at a few stores and eventually locating Smith’s brother. Upon learning of the woman in the trunk, Smith’s brother begins taunting her and making sexual remarks. Smith decided he would have to kill the woman he kidnapped, fearing she would call the police. Willis claimed she opposed killing the woman. Smith opened the trunk and shot Sharma with a shotgun. The trio drive north and eventually abandon the car. The following day Smith tells Willis he returned to the vehicle and burned it.


Smith told a few people about the murder, including a police informant, who agreed to wear a body mike to talk with Smith. During the conversation, Smith made several incriminating statements, including remembering the name of the victim and describing the details of the murder, including how he killed her.


Angelica Willis was convicted for her part in the murder of Sharma and agreed to a plea deal resulting in a 25 year sentence. Willie Smith was convicted and sentenced to death.


Attorneys for Smith are asking that his execution be delayed due to the coronavirus.  The United States District Court of the Middle District of Alabama has rejected the request to halt Smith's execution.  Smith and his attorneys were arguing that execution by lethal injection is a violation of Smith's 8th Amendment rights.  Smith also had pending lawsuits arguing that the execution could be a super spreader event and that the extension of Governor Kay Ivey's Safer at Home Order, has adversely affected the ability of Smith's attorneys to prepare Smith's clemency petition.  The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled against these arguments.  Smith is also requesting that his pastor be allowed in the execution chamber with him during his final moments.  Current laws in Alabama, only allow for a religious advisor to visit with inmate prior to the execution and to watch the execution from a witness room.  


Please pray for peace and healing for the family of Sharma Johnson. Pray for strength for the family of Willie. Pray that if Willie is innocent, lacks the competency to be executed or should not be executed for any other reason that evidence will be provided prior to his execution. Pray that Willie may come to find peace through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, if he has not already.



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