Supreme Court Holds Off Execution Over Drug Issue

High court is expected to issue ruling today
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 29, 2014 9:14 AM CST
In this photo released by the Missouri Department of Corrections, death-row inmate Herbert Smulls is seen.   (AP Photo/Missouri Department of Corrections)

(Newser) – The US Supreme Court is expected to rule today on two petitions regarding Missouri death row inmate Herbert Smulls, the Missouri Attorney General's office says. Smulls' execution was temporarily stayed late yesterday with an order from the high court signed by Justice Samuel Alito. It was sent about two-and-a-half hours before Smulls was scheduled to die at 12:01am today. Smulls' lawyer, Cheryl Pilate, made last-minute pleas yesterday to spare his life, focusing on the state's refusal to disclose the name of the compounding pharmacy that produces the lethal-injection drug, pentobarbital, for use in the execution. Pilate contends that the state's secrecy makes it impossible to know whether the drug could cause pain and suffering during the execution process.

But Missouri has argued that the compounding pharmacy is part of the execution team and therefore its name cannot be released to the public. Smulls, 56, was convicted and sentenced to death for killing a St. Louis County jeweler and badly injuring his wife during a 1991 robbery. Missouri statutes allow executions to occur at any time on the day they are scheduled—that's why the state always sets the execution time for a minute after midnight, in case there are court delays. If the Supreme Court decides in favor of the state, the execution could occur later today. (Read more execution stories.)

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