Become an 1819 Member

Basic

$10.99/month

1819

$18.19/month

Premium

$50.99/month
Sign up

By Erica Thomas, Managing Editor
The man convicted in the 1991 kidnapping and murder of a Trussville, Alabama woman is set to be put to death Thursday, at 6 p.m.
Willie B. Smith III is scheduled for lethal injection at William C. Holman Correctional Facility, in Atmore.
Smith was convicted of the kidnapping and killing of Sharma Ruth Johnson. Johnson was only 22-years old when she was abducted from an ATM off Parkway East, in the Center Point area, after being set up by Smith, who was also 22 at the time, and a 17-year-old girl. That teen, Angelica Willis, was originally charged with capital murder as well but testified against Smith as part of a plea deal.
Willis said Smith directed her to ask Johnson for directions to a fast-food restaurant on the night of Oct. 26, 1991. According to trial testimony, the two had no relationship with the victim and simply picked her to be the victim in the random crime.
When Willis asked Johnson where Krystal’s Hamburgers was located, Johnson said she did not know. At that time, Smith approached the car with a sawed-off shotgun and demanded Johnson get in the trunk of the car. The two suspects then got in the car, with Smith driving and Willis in the passenger’s seat, drove to the Huffman area, then back to the ATM where they withdrew the remaining $80 from the victim’s account.
Video from the bank was used to track down the suspects. It showed the incident at the ATM happened around 1:25 a.m. on Oct. 27, 1991. The suspects then drove to Huffman to pick up Smith’s brother. Willis testified that once the brother learned the woman was in the trunk, he taunted her. The three then drove to Zion Memorial Cemetery, where Smith shot Johnson, execution-style. Willis said before the shooting she and the brother tried to tell Smith he didn’t have to kill her. She said Smith told Johnson, “I’m going to have to kill you” because he thought she would call the police. He then shot her in the head.
A secret recording of Smith explaining to his friend what happened was later played in court.“She said, no I’m not [going to tell the police], I promise,” Smith said in the recording while mimicking a female voice. “I said, ‘you a liar!’ Boom! then shot her in the head with that gun.’


Smith told his friend he had to shoot Johnson because her brother was a police officer.
After the shooting, the three drove the victim’s car, with her dead body in the trunk, to the cemetery in Roebuck. Willis testified that Smith went back later and torched the vehicle.
Willis was given a 25-year sentence in exchange for her testimony. She was released from Tutwiler Prison after serving all 25 years and has graduated from Hope Inspired Ministries, a faith-based non-profit that provides training for employment.
Smith was originally sentenced to death by the electric chair, in 1992, but that has since been changed to death by lethal injection.
Since the conviction, Smith’s attorneys have made several appeals. In 2013, they claimed that the state gave their client antipsychotic drugs during his trial, rendering him unable to show emotion. In 2019, they appealed the death sentence, saying he only has an IQ of 70. In February of this year, The U.S. Supreme Court stopped the execution of Smith last minute after attorneys requested for him to have his pastor with him in the death chamber. Now, attorneys claim Smith was not given reasonable accommodation to opt into execution by nitrogen, a new method approved for executions in Alabama. Although courts have ruled to allow the execution to move forward, Smith’s attorneys are continuing to fight the execution.
The Alabama Department of Corrections will only allow one member of the media to witness the execution Thursday. That reporter will be from the Associated Press, as decided by ADOC. Other media has been instructed to report to a media room at the prison

"One of the sweetest people you would ever meet."

The family members of the victim in the case have seen news headlines about the execution. They hope that people reading and watching the headlines are able to focus on the person Johnson was and on the lives she touched during her short time on earth.
A classmate of Johnson said she remembers her as quiet and kind.
“I’ve known her since seventh grade,” said Shelley Luna. “She was one of the sweetest people you would ever meet. Just very humble.”
Luna said she still remembers where she was and how she felt when she heard about Johnson’s death on the news.
“For a long time, I wouldn’t go outside by myself at night, because of her death,” Luna remembered.
Sharma Ruth Johnson is now resting in peace at Jefferson Memorial Gardens, in Trussville.

Become an 1819 Member

Sign up