Missouri executed a man last night. The condemned lay on the gurney with IV lines, one for each arm, disappearing through the pale green cinderblock wall. On the other side stood the prison warden, a guard and two unnamed and faceless individuals who were preparing to take a life.
Herbert Smulls might have thought of his life as he lied on the crisp, clean sheets. He had already told his attorney’s that he was “terrified of dying.” Convicted of murder during a robbery in 1991, Smulls went to his death moments after last-minute appeals were denied by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Smulls was pronounced dead at 10:20 p.m. Missouri time at the State Prison in Bonne Terre.
During the first week of July 1991, someone who called himself “Jeffrey Taylor” called a jewelry store to make an appointment to show some rings that he had for sale. Florence Honickman, co-owner, along with her husband Stephen, agreed to meet Jeffrey Taylor on July 22. Jeffrey Taylor was later determined to be Smulls.
When July 22 came, Smulls and a young friend, Norman Brown, kept the appointment at the Honickmans’ store. After looking at several diamonds, Smulls and Brown left the store without buying anything. They returned later just as another customer entered. Mrs. Honickman told the pair they could either wait or come back later. They decided to return in a few hours.
When they got back, the Honickmans were alone. The last customer had left and they were preparing to go home for the evening. After showing Smulls and Brown a few diamonds, the pair stepped into a hallway to discuss prices. A few minutes later, Mrs. Honickman looked up and saw Smulls holding a handgun on her.
Smulls fired three shots at her as she ran to hide behind a door. Struck in the arm and side, she feigned death while lying in her own blood. Hearing the shots, Mr. Honickman came from the backroom and was also shot three times. Smulls and Brown took jewelry from Mrs. Honickman before scooping up more pieces form the display cases.
After the two left, Mrs. Honickman called police as Mr. Honickman died from his wounds on the floor of their mom-and-pop jewelry store.
Brown, 15 at the time of the crime, was sentenced to life plus 90 years with no possibility of parole. Smulls was tried three times and sentenced to death at each trial.
Smulls’ execution came after a series of stays which were first granted then lifted. Attorneys for Smulls were in the midst of seeking another stay as Missouri went forward with the execution before the midnight expiration of the current death warrant.
The attorneys, who were seeking stays on multiple grounds, argued that using pentobarbital to kill Smulls might not be as pure and potent as it should be, resulting in undue suffering.
Pentobarbital, the drug used to kill Smulls, has been used in America for decades to euthanize animals. In the Netherlands, as well as Oregon, it is used as part of the procedure in physician-assisted suicide. An oral solution mixture containing 9 grams of pentobarbital is mixed with sugar syrup. Together they are mixed into a 20 percent ethanol solution and given to the patient for self administration. The recipe in Oregon is identical except the mixture contains 10 grams of pentobarbital
Pentobarbital has been used, or considered for use, as a substitute for other drugs normally used in the United States for executions. Illegal under Danish law, the owner of the drug stopped selling it to states that would be using it in the death penalty.
Texas started using the drug on July 18, 2012. The drug has been under consideration by several states, including Arizona, Ohio and Arizona, following shortages of the drugs previously used as part of a three-drug mixture. In October 2013, Missouri changed its procedures to allow for the drug to be used in executions. Joseph Paul Franklin was the first inmate to be executed in the state following Missouri’s switch to a single dose of pentobarbital.
As Smulls was injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital, he looked one more time at his surroundings, closed his eyes and died.
By Jerry Nelson