An Alabama inmate was executed Thursday night after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals, making him the first inmate put to death in the state since 2013.
Christopher E. Brooks was executed more than two decades after he was sentenced to death. According to court records, Brooks was convicted of killing Jo Deann Campbell in December 1992. Campbell was found bludgeoned to death, and Brooks was seen driving her car and was arrested with her credit card, the records stated.
Brooks was killed by lethal injection at 6:38 p.m. after saying he hopes his execution brings closure, according to reporters who witnessed it. Officials with the Alabama Department of Corrections could not be reached Thursday.
Brooks is the first inmate put to death by Alabama since July 2013, when Andrew Lackey was killed by lethal injection for killing a World War II veteran.
While he challenged the lethal-injection procedure in Alabama, Brooks also turned to a very recent Supreme Court ruling in seeking to have the execution called off.
He had argued that Alabama’s death-penalty system is “virtually identical” to the Florida system the U.S. Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional last week. The justices struck down Florida’s unusual system of imposing death sentences because the state which allows judges, rather than juries, to make that call. Florida lawmakers have vowed to quickly change the state’s law to comply with the ruling.
Brooks’s lawyers argued that the Supreme Court ruling in the Florida case (Hurst v. Florida) also invalidates the way Alabama hands down death sentences.
Authorities in Alabama did not agree. Joy Patterson, a spokeswoman for Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, said after the Supreme Court ruling that it did not affect her state.
“In the Florida case, the holding is that a jury must find the aggravating factor in order to make someone eligible for the death penalty,” Patterson said in a statement. “Alabama’s system already requires the jury to do just that.”
Strange’s office wrote in a filing to the U.S. Supreme Court that in Brooks’s case, a jury found the aggravating circumstances allowing him to be sentenced to death, while the Florida ruling focused on that state’s requirement that a trial judge find these circumstances.
“Alabama’s capital sentencing scheme is wholly different from Florida’s in this specific regard,” Strange’s office stated in the filing, which was submitted Wednesday.
The Supreme Court denied Brooks’s request. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg concurred with the decision, with Sotomayor writing a concurrence noting that she believed “procedural obstacles would have prevented us from granting relief.”
In a dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that “the unfairness inherent in treating this case differently from others which used similarly unconstitutional procedures only underscores the need to reconsider the validity of capital punishment under the Eighth Amendment.”
Last year, in a high-profile dissent, Breyer had questioned whether the death penalty is constitutional.
Brooks also unsuccessfully appealed to the Supreme Court in asking them to stop the execution because of other court action questioning its proposed method of lethal injection. That request was denied without any recorded dissents.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on Tuesday had also rejected an appeal from Brooks that had challenged the state’s lethal-injection protocol.
In 2014, Alabama said it was adopting a new lethal-injection protocol that essentially mirrored the combination used by Florida for executions. That decision in Alabama came as states across the country are facing an ongoing shortage of lethal injection drugs, resulting in a series of different combinations being suggested and utilized in recent years. Some of these executions have gone awry in very public ways, which has drawn heightened scrutiny to lethal injections in the United States.
An execution in Oklahoma saw an inmate writhe and grimace before being pronounced dead after the lethal injection was called off, while another in Arizona lasted for more than two hours as officials injected the inmate with more than a dozen doses of fatal drugs. Both of these executions, along with a troubled one in Ohio, involved the sedative midazolam.
The Supreme Court last year agreed to hear a challenge involving Oklahoma’s protocol that focused on this drug, and the justices upheld it while arguing about the country’s overall use of the death penalty.
Alabama is one of the country’s most active death-penalty states, executing more inmates than all but six other states since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The state did not carry out any executions in 2014 or 2015, the first time it did not execute anyone over back-to-back years since 1993 and 1994.
This post has been updated.