- Ronald B. Smith was convicted of the robbery and murder of a convenience store clerk
- It takes five judges to stay an execution and the Supreme Court had only four
The ruling capped off an unusual flurry of last minute motions and orders in the case that reflect the deep divisions among the justices on some issues related to the death penalty.
Smith was originally scheduled for execution at 7 p.m. ET. At 6:14 p.m. ET, the Court's press office emailed out an order from Justice Clarence Thomas — who has jurisdiction over Alabama-temporarily staying the execution. The order was likely issued to give the justices more time to handle the case.
At 8:25 p.m. ET, the Court issued an order allowing the execution to go forward. The order offered no explanation, but stated that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor had voted to grant a stay of execution, but it takes five justices to grant a stay of execution.
Lawyers for Smith almost immediately filed a motion asking the Court to reconsider its order. The motion pointed out that last month when the Court was split 4-4 in another death penalty case, Chief Justice John Roberts provided a so called "courtesy vote" to block the execution.
Again, Thomas issued a temporary stay so the justices could review the latest petition.
At 10:05 p.m., the Court once again denied the motion, although this time there were no noted dissents.
The Supreme Court normally provides little to no information about their reasoning behind emergency motions. The practice has drawn criticism from those who say that the Court should do more to explain its thinking so the public better understands its actions.
Smith was convicted in Alabama of the robbery and murder of Casey Wilson, a convenience store clerk.
Lawyers for Smith argue that although the jury rendered a verdict of life without parole, the trial court overrode the jury's verdict and sentenced Smith to death.
Smith argued in part that he should be given life without parole because Alabama's sentencing scheme is similar to that of Florida's which the Court struck down in an opinion called Hurst v. Florida.
Lawyers for Alabama argue that that the case should be allowed to proceed and stress that Hurst v. Florida has no retroactive application to Smith.