Alabama inmate coughs 13 minutes after lethal injection, sparks controversy

An Alabama inmate gasped and coughed for 13 minutes during his execution Thursday that used Midazolam, a controversial drug.

As reported by the Montgomery Advertiser, 45-year-old Ronald Smith was executed at the Holman Correctional Facility for the 1994 murder of a convenience store clerk.

Media witnesses report that Smith also clinched his left fist and had a heaving chest during the execution.

The drugs used in Smith’s execution are controversial because the lethal injection is done in three parts. The first drug is meant to anesthetize inmates beyond consciousness. The second drug is a paralytic, and the third stops the heart.

It is Alabama Department of Corrections protocol to give a consciousness check after the first drug. Witnesses said a prison guard performed two consciousness checks before the final two lethal drugs were given. During the first one, Smith allegedly moved his arm. In the second, it was said he slightly raised his right arm.

Smith was previously involved in a lawsuit that challenged the state’s death penalty protocol, alleging that Alabama’s death penalty process caused cruel and unusual pain because the first drug administered does not properly anesthetize before injecting the second and third drugs.

The lawsuit said without proper anesthetization, inmates would feel burning and paralyzing sensations caused by the second and third drugs. However, the case was dismissed.

ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn said the department followed protocol for the execution and would request an autopsy.