Alabama inmate coughs, heaves, during execution by injection

ATMORE, Ala. (AP) – Thirteen minutes into his execution by injection, an Alabama inmate heaved and coughed and appeared to move during tests meant to determine consciousness.

Forty-five-year-old Ronald Bert Smith Jr. was finally pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m. Thursday night – about 30 minutes after the procedure began at the state prison in southwest Alabama.

Alabama uses the sedative midazolam as the first drug in a three-drug lethal injection combination. Smith and other inmates argued in a court case that the drug was an unreliable sedative and could cause them to feel pain, citing its use in problematic executions. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the use of the drug.

Smith was convicted of capital murder in the Nov. 8, 1994, fatal shooting of Huntsville store clerk Casey Wilson.

Critics of a lethal injection drug that has been used in problematic executions in several states say Thursday’s execution in Alabama provides more evidence that it shouldn’t be used to put inmates to death.

Robert Dunham is executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. He said medical experts have repeatedly said midazolam is not designed to render a person unconscious and insensate, and witness accounts of Smith’s execution indicate that it did not.

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