BONNE TERRE, Mo. – 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.