Missouri executes man for jeweler's 1991 death

In this photo released by the Missouri Department of Corrections, death-row inmate Herbert Smulls is seen.

In this photo released by the Missouri Department of Corrections, death-row inmate Herbert Smulls is seen. Photo by The Associated Press.

BONNE TERRE, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri who killed a jeweler during a 1991 robbery was executed for the crime late Wednesday, marking the state's third lethal injection in as many months.

Herbert Smulls was executed by a lethal injection of pentobarbital at the state prison in Bonne Terre, and pronounced dead at 10:20 p.m. Smulls showed no outward signs of distress.

The 56-year-old had been convicted of killing Stephen Honickman and badly injuring his wife, Florence, during a robbery at their jewelry shop in suburban St. Louis on July 27, 1991.

The U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay late Tuesday, shortly before the scheduled 12:01 a.m. execution, after Smulls' attorneys filed an appeal challenging the state's refusal to disclose where it obtained its execution drug. The high court cleared all appeals on Wednesday night. Smulls' attorney had filed another appeal less than 30 minutes before he was pronounced dead, but no action was taken.

Defense attorneys argued that the state's refusal to name the compounding pharmacy supplying the pentobarbital made it impossible to know whether the drug could cause pain and suffering during the execution. The state maintained that the company was part of the execution team, so its name was protected from public disclosure.

Attorney General Chris Koster said in a statement after the execution: "My thoughts and prayers are with Florence Honickman and the family and friends of Stephen Honickman."

Prosecutors said the defense's arguments were simply a smoke screen aimed at sparing a murderer's life.

"It was a horrific crime," St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said on Tuesday. "With all the other arguments that the opponents of the death penalty are making, it's simply to try to divert the attention from what this guy did, and why he deserves to be executed."

Smulls had already served time in prison for robbery when he went to F&M Crown Jewels in Chesterfield and told the Honickmans, who owned the store, that he wanted to buy a diamond for his fiancee. But Smulls planned to rob the couple, and took 15-year-old Norman Brown with him.

"They planned it out, including killing people, whoever was there," McCulloch said.

Smulls began shooting inside the shop, and he and Brown took rings and watches — including those that Florence Honickman was wearing. She was shot in the side and the arm, and feigned death while lying in a pool of her own blood.

Florence Honickman identified the assailants. Brown was convicted in 1993 of first-degree murder and other charges, and sentenced to life without parole. Smulls got the death penalty.

Smulls' execution was the state's third since it began using pentobarbital as its lethal injection drug.

Missouri and other states had used a three-drug execution method for decades, but pharmaceutical companies stopped selling the drugs in recent years for use in executions. Missouri eventually switched to pentobarbital, which was used to execute serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin in November and Allen Nicklasson in December. Neither inmate showed outward signs of distress.

The state said it obtained its supply of the drug from a compounding pharmacy, which custom-mix drugs for individual clients. They are not subject to oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, though they are regulated by states.

Smulls' attorney, Cheryl Pilate, said she and her defense team used information obtained through open records requests and publicly available documents to determine that state obtained its drugs from The Apothecary Shoppe, a compounding pharmacy based in Tulsa, Okla. In a statement, the company would neither confirm nor deny that it made the Missouri drug.

Compounding pharmacies custom-mix drugs for individual clients and are not subject to oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, though they are regulated by states.

Pilate said the possibility that something could go wrong persists, citing recent trouble with execution drugs in Ohio and Oklahoma. She also said that previous testimony from a prison official indicates Missouri stores the drug at room temperatures, which experts believe could taint the drug, Pilate said, and potentially cause it to lose effectiveness.

Missouri Senate Democratic Leader Jolie Justus introduced legislation this week that would create an 11-member commission responsible for setting the state's execution procedure. She said ongoing lawsuits and secrecy about the state's current lethal injection method should drive a change in protocol.

Earlier coverage:

Update posted at 10:14 p.m.

BONNE TERRE, Mo. (AP) — The attorney for a Missouri death-row inmate has filed a new appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court about two hours before the state's execution deadline.

Attorney Cheryl Pilate again challenged the state's refusal to reveal the origin of its execution drug, pentobarbital. She contends that the state's secrecy makes it impossible to know whether the drug could cause pain and suffering during the execution process.

The attorney general's office responded to Pilate's last-minute filing, saying previous court rulings have sided with the state's position.

Smulls, 56, was sentenced to death for killing a suburban St. Louis jeweler and badly injuring his wife during a 1991 robbery.

Update posted at 8:47 p.m.

BONNE TERRE, Mo. (AP) — The execution of a death-row inmate in Missouri was still on hold Wednesday night pending a court fight, with the deadline for the state to complete the lethal injection fast approaching.

Missouri's attorney general asked the U.S. Supreme Court late Wednesday to clear an appeals court stay that was delaying the execution of Herbert Smulls at the state prison in Bonne Terre. Smulls, 56, was sentenced to death for killing a suburban St. Louis jeweler and badly injuring his wife during a 1991 robbery.

The U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay late Tuesday, shortly before the scheduled 12:01 a.m. Wednesday execution, after Smulls' attorneys filed an appeal challenging the state's refusal to disclose where it obtained its execution drug. The high court lifted that stay without explanation around 5 p.m., but another appeal is still pending.

The state has until 11:59 p.m. Wednesday to execute Smulls. If it doesn't happen, the Missouri Supreme Court will set a new execution date.

Among the final appeals made by Smulls' lawyer, Cheryl Pilate, was one focusing on the state's refusal to disclose the name of the compounding pharmacy that produces the pentobarbital used during executions. Pilate contends that the state's secrecy makes it impossible to know whether the drug could cause pain and suffering during the execution process.

State prison officials maintained that the compounding pharmacy is part of the execution team and therefore its name cannot be released to the public.

St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch has said talk about the drug was a smoke screen aimed at sparing the life of a cold-blooded killer. He noted that several courts had already ruled against Smulls, including the U.S. District Court in Kansas City and the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Gov. Jay Nixon denied clemency Tuesday evening.

"It was a horrific crime," McCulloch said on Tuesday. "With all the other arguments that the opponents of the death penalty are making, it's simply to try to divert the attention from what this guy did, and why he deserves to be executed."

Smulls had already served prison time for robbery when, on July 27, 1991, he went to F&M Crown Jewels in Chesterfield and told the owners, Stephen and Florence Honickman, that he wanted to buy a diamond for his fiancee. He took 15-year-old Norman Brown with him.

Once in the shop, Smulls began shooting. The robbers took rings and watches, including those that Florence Honickman was wearing.

She was shot in the side and the arm, and feigned death while lying in a pool of her own blood but survived. Her 51-year-old husband died.

Police stopped Smulls 15 minutes later, and they found stolen jewelry and weapons in his car. Florence Honickman identified the assailants.

Brown was convicted in 1993 of first-degree murder and other charges, and sentenced to life without parole. Smulls got the death penalty.

Missouri had used a three-drug execution process since 1989, until the drug makers stopped selling those drugs for executions. Missouri eventually switched to pentobarbital, which was used to execute two Missouri inmates late last year. Neither inmate showed visible signs of distress.

Compounding pharmacies custom-mix drugs for clients and are not subject to oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, though they are regulated by states.

Posted at 5:07 p.m.

BONNE TERRE, Mo. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has lifted its stay on the scheduled execution Wednesday of a Missouri death-row inmate whose lawyers had challenged the state's refusal to disclose where it obtained its lethal injection drug.

The high court issued a temporary stay less than three hours before Herbert Smulls was scheduled to be executed at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday at the state prison in Bonne Terre. Smulls, 56, was sentenced to death for killing a suburban St. Louis jeweler and badly injuring his wife during a 1991 robbery.

But the court lifted the stay without explanation just before 5 p.m., meaning the execution could move forward. Missouri law allows an execution to occur at any time on the day it is scheduled. Witnesses to the execution had been told to report to the prison by noon.

Smulls' lawyer, Cheryl Pilate, made her final pleas Tuesday, focusing on the state's refusal to disclose the name of the compounding pharmacy that produces the pentobarbital used during executions. Pilate contends that the state's secrecy makes it impossible to know whether the drug could cause pain and suffering during the execution process.

State prison officials maintained that the compounding pharmacy is part of the execution team and therefore its name cannot be released to the public.

St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch has said talk about the drug was a smoke screen aimed at sparing the life of a cold-blooded killer. He noted that several courts had already ruled against Smulls, including the U.S. District Court in Kansas City and the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Gov. Jay Nixon denied clemency Tuesday evening.

"It was a horrific crime," McCulloch said on Tuesday. "With all the other arguments that the opponents of the death penalty are making, it's simply to try to divert the attention from what this guy did, and why he deserves to be executed."

Smulls had already served prison time for robbery when, on July 27, 1991, he went to F&M Crown Jewels in Chesterfield and told the owners, Stephen and Florence Honickman, that he wanted to buy a diamond for his fiancee. He took 15-year-old Norman Brown with him.

Once in the shop, Smulls began shooting. The robbers took rings and watches, including those that Florence Honickman was wearing.

She was shot in the side and the arm, and feigned death while lying in a pool of her own blood but survived. Her 51-year-old husband died.

Police stopped Smulls 15 minutes later, and they found stolen jewelry and weapons in his car. Florence Honickman identified the assailants.

Brown was convicted in 1993 of first-degree murder and other charges, and sentenced to life without parole. Smulls got the death penalty.

Missouri had used a three-drug execution process since 1989, until the drug makers stopped selling those drugs for executions. Missouri eventually switched to pentobarbital, which was used to execute two Missouri inmates late last year. Neither inmate showed visible signs of distress.

Compounding pharmacies custom-mix drugs for clients and are not subject to oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, though they are regulated by states.


Associated Press writers Justin Juozapavicius in Tulsa, Okla., and Chris Blank in Jefferson City, Mo., contributed to this report.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Please review our Policies and Procedures before registering or commenting

News Tribune - comments