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Tuesday, January 17, 2023

The Execution of Herbert Smulls

     By 1991, 33-year-old Herbert Smulls had spent several years behind bars for armed robbery and other crimes. On July 27, 1991, Smulls and a 15-year-old accomplice named Normon Brown walked into the F & M Crown Jewelers store in Chesterfield, Missouri with the intent of robbing the establishment. Smulls told the owners of the St. Louis County jewelry store, Stephen and Florence Honickman, that he wanted to buy a diamond ring for his fiancee.

     Instead of purchasing a ring, Smulls pulled out a handgun and shot the owners. He killed 51-year-old Stephen Honickman on the spot. When Smulls and Brown fled the scene they left behind Florence Honickman who was still alive but lying in a pool of her own blood. Smulls had shot her in the arm and side. She survived the shooting by playing dead.

     Fifteen minutes after the robbery-murder a police officer pulled Smulls off the road on a traffic stop. Inside the car officers found handguns and the stolen jewelry.

     Upon Florence Honickman's recovery she identified Smulls and Brown as the armed robbers and Smulls at the man who had shot her and her husband.

     In 1993, a judge sentenced Normon Brown to life in prison without parole. The judge handed Smulls the death sentence. The murderer was sent to Missouri's death row.

     In 1989, executioners in Missouri began dispatching death row inmates by injecting them with a lethal three-drug cocktail. The first drug, Midazalam, helped calm the inmate. Hydromorphine, a strong narcotic, reduced pain. Sodium Thiopental, the killer drug, stopped the heart.

   In 2013,  the overseas companies that manufactured and distributed the above drugs stopped exporting them to the U.S. if they were to be used to execute prisoners. As a result, Missouri and other states had to switch to a single execution drug, Pentobarbital. If Smulls' execution, scheduled for 12:01 AM, January 29, 2014 went ahead as planned he'd receive a shot of Pentobarbital.

     A few days before the 56-year-old's execution date Cheryl Pilante, one of the lawyers fervently fighting to save Smulls life, asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a temporary stay of execution. Just two and a half hours before Smulls' execution the Supreme Court granted the stay. Justice Samuel Alito signed the order temporarily delaying the punishment.

     Smulls' execution was put on hold because corrections officials with the state of Missouri refused to disclose the identify of the compounding pharmacy that mixed the Pentobarbital. Attorney Pilate argued that Missouri's execution secret made it impossible to know whether the drug would cause Mr. Smulls any pain.

     In expressing grave concern for her client, attorney Pilate said, "I frankly cannot begin to tell you how distressing this situation is, that the state is going to execute a prisoner in his mid-50s who made one series of colossal mistakes [italics mine] that were in many ways out of character because he is not a violent person."

     What? He's not a violent person? His cold-blooded murder was out of character? If defense attorneys are paid to embarrass themselves on behalf of their clients, attorney Pilate deserved a bonus.

     St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch characterized the drug purchase issue a smokescreen designed to save the life of a vicious killer. He also accused attorney Pilate of trying to divert attention from her client's horrific crime.

     On January 29, 2014, the U. S. Supreme Court lifted the temporary stay of execution. Later that morning, the state executioner in Bonne Terre, Missouri administered the lethal drug. Herbert Smulls was pronounced dead at 10:20 AM. Only his attorneys and a few others were sad to see him go.

     Most U.S. citizens do not oppose the death penalty as a matter of principle. Regarding inmates like Herbert Smulls, few citizens are concerned they may feel some pain at the end. We all have to occasionally endure pain and anxiety in our daily lives. And because of people like Herbert Smulls, victims of crime are certainly no strangers to suffering.

     So what's behind this obsessive quest to insure that cold-blooded killers are dispatched without discomfort? Who really cares that Mr. Smulls was anxious about dying and worried about pain? Who isn't? 


  1. I could not agree with the above article more. It is absolutely insane to claim to be in favor of murderers yet against killing them. The idea that they are so smug in the abuse of the appeals process that they use it to its fullest extent knowing darn good and well that they are guilty but just milking the system to extend their lives. It is sickening that we do this in cases such as this where there was an eye witness and the thieving murderous bastard was caught with the items he stole while committing the murder/robbery within minutes of committing the crime. Sheeeeze wake up people and spend your efforts on fighting for the rights of those that truly deserve your compassion and respect.

  2. "So what's behind this obsessive quest to insure that cold-blooded killers are dispatched without discomfort? Who really cares that Mr. Smulls was anxious about dying, and worried about pain?"
    America's founding fathers apparently. It's in the bill of rights. Change the Constitution if you want to have cruel and unusual punishment.