Missouri Executes Man After Appeals Fail

Herbert Smulls was put to death by lethal injection, the state's third execution in as many months

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A Missouri man was executed late Wednesday night, shortly after the Supreme Court denied his last-minute appeal.

Herbert Smulls, who was convicted of killing a jewelry store owner and badly injuring his wife during a 1991 robbery, is the third inmate to die by lethal injection in Missouri in as many months. His execution was originally scheduled for 12:01 a.m., but was put on hold after the Supreme Court issued a temporary stay on Tuesday night, in order to hear his lawyer’s final petitions.

Smulls’ attorney filed appeals challenging Missouri’s refusal to disclose where it obtained the lethal injection drug, pentobarbital. The state procures the drug from a compounding pharmacy, which is not regulated by the federal government, and Smulls’ lawyers argued that tests on the drug occurred at an Oklahoma laboratory linked to a Massachusetts pharmacy involved in a meningitis outbreak in 2012 that killed dozens and caused more than 700 to become sick.

“We’re deeply concerned about the use of a drug from a non-FDA regulated entity and being tested by an unregulated laboratory,” Cheryl Pilate, Smulls’ lawyer, said. “And my client is terrified.” Pilate feared the unknown purity of the drug could cause her client undue suffering.

But, the Supreme Court vacated his appeals without giving a reason on Wednesday afternoon, and the execution proceeded hours later. According to witnesses, the 56-year-old Smulls did not have any final words and showed no outward signs of distress. He was pronounced dead at 10:20 pm, nine minutes after the execution process began. After the execution, Florence Honickman, the woman whose husband Smulls killed and who he badly injured, questioned why it took 22 years of appeals for Smulls to be put to death. “Make no mistake,” Honickman said, “the long, winding and painful road leading up to this day has been a travesty of justice.”

-with reporting from Josh Sanburn