Timeline: Missouri's execution hurdles

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:59 a.m. CST, Wednesday, January 29, 2014

COLUMBIA Missouri death row inmate Herbert Smulls was granted a temporary stay of execution Tuesday night just hours before he was scheduled to die at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

Smulls was convicted of killing a jeweler and causing severe injuries to his wife in a 1991 robbery in St. Louis County, according to The Associated Press.

Missouri's execution drugs

1989 - May 2012

Three-drug injection of:

  • Sodium thiopental, manufactured by Hospira Inc., and pancuronium bromide are used to make prisoner unconscious
  • Potassium chloride used to stop the prisoner's heart

May 2012 - October 2013

  • Propofol purchased from Mercer Medical in summer 2013 and originally obtained from Hospira Inc.

October 2013 - current

  • Pentobarbital: Missouri currently receives the drug from an unnamed manufacturer

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Smulls' lawyer, Cheryl Pilate, had made last-minute pleas Tuesday to spare his life, focusing on the state's refusal to disclose from which compounding pharmacy they obtain the lethal-injection drug, pentobarbital.

The drug was used for Oklahoma inmate Michael Lee Wilson's execution on Jan. 9. According to the AP, his last words were, "I feel my whole body burning." 

The death penalty in Missouri has been repeatedly revised and reviewed. Between 2005 and 2010, the Missouri Department of Corrections confronted major obstacles concerning drug administration. These issues are still being resolved.

Here are some of the key events from the past four years:

March 31, 2010: Thiopental manufacturer Hospira Inc. asks that its drug not be used for capital punishment. Missouri routinely has used a three-drug injection of thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride to administer the death penalty since 1989, according to The Washington Post.

September 2010: The American Bar Association conducts a review of Missouri's capital punishment system. Missouri becomes the ninth state to be reviewed in the ABA Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project. "The ABA standards are national standards," said Rodney Uphoff, MU law professor and a member of the project's team. "The task force reviews the policies, procedures and laws in Missouri to make sure they comply with the ABA standard."

Jan. 21, 2011: Hospira announces that its thiopental will no longer be on the market because of its use in executions.

Jan. 26, 2011: Lundbeck Inc., manufacturer of pentobarbital, follows Hospira's lead and asks that its drug not be used for capital punishment.

Feb. 9, 2011: Martin Link, 47, is executed with the three-drug lethal injection for the kidnapping, rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl. This is the first execution in Missouri since 2009 and the second since 2005.

July 2011: Pentobarbital manufacturer Lundbeck Inc. increases security on the drug's distribution and allows it to be used only for therapeutic purposes. U.S. states actively carrying out the death penalty by lethal injection are refused sales.

March 2012: The American Bar Association releases the 491-page Missouri Death Penalty Assessment Report, analyzing the state's practices and laws concerning the death penalty. The team of eight experts in charge of the report included two faculty members from MU's School of Law, including Uphoff. "There are areas in which Missouri is in compliance with the ABA standards, but there were a number in which we felt Missouri should be in review to meet those standards," he said.

May 2012: There is a shortage of thiopental used in the three-drug injection because of Hospira's exit from the market. Missouri chooses to use only propofol and administer a single-drug injection instead.

Aug. 28, 2012: German drug manufacturing company Fresenius Kabi asks health care providers to stop selling propofol to states' corrections departments for executions. Using this anesthetic drug contradicts the company's mission of "caring for life."

Oct. 9, 2013: The Missouri Department of Corrections says it will return its order of propofol from 2012 that was being used for executions to its distributor, Morris & Dickson Co. LLC of Shreveport, La.

Oct. 11, 2013: Gov. Jay Nixon delays the scheduled execution of Allen Nicklasson, who would have been the first death row inmate in Missouri to be executed by a lethal injection of propofol. After concerns were raised surrounding the state's acquisition of the drug, Nixon asked the Department of Corrections to delay Nicklasson's execution and to find a new form of lethal injection.

Oct. 22, 2013: The Missouri Department of Corrections announces it will switch to a one-drug lethal injection of pentobarbital for executions. According to a media release from the department, a compounding pharmacy is to supply the drug pentobarbital, which will become the standard for future executions.

Nov. 20, 2013: Joseph Franklin, 63, is denied an execution stay and becomes the first Missouri inmate to be executed using pentobarbital. Franklin was convicted of killing seven people, but he took responsibility for killing at least 13 more, according to the AP. He is the first inmate executed since Link in 2011.

Dec. 11, 2013: Missouri executes its second inmate in three weeks, 41-year-old Allen Nicklasson. He was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of a man who helped him after his car broke down on a highway in 1994, according to previous Missourian reporting. His execution is Missouri's second use of pentobarbital in lethal injections.

Jan. 22: Pilate, Smulls' attorney, asks for a 60-day stay of execution. She cites the lack of information and certainty about pentobarbital, including the reliability of the supplier, an unnamed compounding pharmacy.

Jan. 28: The U.S. Supreme Court grants a temporary stay of execution for Smulls. His execution had been set for 12:01 a.m. Jan. 29.

Feb. 26, 2014: Missouri inmate Michael Taylor, 46, is scheduled to be executed. He was convicted in the rape and murder of 15-year-old Ann Harrison. His attorney filed challenges in 1996 to the lethal injection process, hoping for an execution stay.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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