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State opposes delay in Williams’ execution

By Garry Mitchell
Associated Press Writer

MOBILE — State attorneys asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to reject an attempt to block next week’s scheduled execution of Luther Jerome Williams, who has been on death row for 17 years for killing a man on an interstate in Tuscaloosa County.

Williams, 47, of Birmingham is scheduled for lethal injection Aug. 23 at Holman prison near Atmore for the Jan. 23, 1988, robbery and shooting death of John Robert Kirk.

Kirk was on his way home from work when he stopped his pickup near the West Blocton exit on Interstate 59 in Tuscaloosa County and was assaulted.

According to the court record, Kirk was shot once in the left side of the head, “execution style.” His money and truck were stolen.

Williams, who had a history of drug and alcohol abuse, according to trial testimony, was sentenced to death on Feb. 12, 1990.

A Tuscaloosa County jury voted 10-2 for a death penalty over a possible sentence of life in prison without parole.

His attorneys asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to block the execution, claiming lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment. Williams raised that claim in a suit filed April 10 and dismissed by a federal judge on July 30.

The 11th Circuit gave no indication when it would rule.

The Alabama attorney general’s office says Williams already had exhausted his appeal on March 26, when the U.S. Supreme Court denied his petition for relief.

Assistant Attorney General Clay Crenshaw contends Williams came up with a lethal injection challenge only in a bid to stall the execution.

Tuscaloosa attorney Joel Sogol, who represented Williams, described the condemned inmate’s case as “another example of how little the state affords people charged with capital offenses at their trial and how hard the state fights to make that all right.”

Other issues

Among other issues, Williams’ attorneys argued that “evolving standards of decency” have turned against lethal injection.

But state attorneys told the 11th Circuit that 37 of the 38 states that allow capital punishment use lethal injection as the method of execution, and Alabama is not aware of a single state legislature that has recently moved to another method.

The “evolving standards of decency,” whatever their stage of evolution, do not give Williams an excuse for waiting to file his lethal-injection challenge until April 2007, the state’s court filing says.

Williams’ attorneys could have raised that claim in 2002 when Alabama began using lethal injection, the state argued.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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