UPDATE: Missouri executes man for jeweler's 1991 death

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 | 10:52 p.m. CST

BONNE TERRE — A Missouri man 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 at the state prison in Bonne Terre, and pronounced dead at 10:20 p.m. 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, though Smulls' attorney had filed another less than 30 minutes before he was pronounced dead.

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.

Prosecutors said the 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. He took 15-year-old Norman Brown with him.

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.

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.


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Mark Foecking January 30, 2014 | 7:46 a.m.

Pentobarbital is pentobarbital. It's a commodity. It's commonly used in veterinary euthanasia and considered very effective.

If you want to debate the death penalty, do that rather than making all of these end around arguments. I'm not convinced that it is a deterrent, neither is it significantly different from life in prison for most inmates. But it's annoying to see issues like this clouding the discussion.


(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 30, 2014 | 2:37 p.m.

MarkF: Well, storage stability IS an issue for many chemicals. It all depends upon the reactive sites on the chemical, temperature, pH, solvents, exposure to light (sun), and the like. For example, you wouldn't want to store phenobarbital in an alkaline environment.

But old drugs like phenobarbital have been studied over and over again in a variety of formulations and temperatures. We KNOW how this chemical behaves. You are correct with your "end around" comment; in this particular case, the attorney was grasping at straws, blowing smoke, and avoiding the real hoping for a judiciary who could not, or would not, learn about drug stability via their clerks, the internet, experts in the field, or the library. It's easy to throw out a comment such as "It MAY be unstable" or somesuch and raise doubts among those unfamiliar with the topic. That's what the attorney attempted, and such lawyer-ly behavior engenders little respect from me.

(Report Comment)

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