U.S. Supreme Court tells Missouri to hold off on executing Herbert Smulls

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito stopped Herbert Smulls’ execution at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday night, less than three hours before he was scheduled to die.

Missouri officials planned to kill Smulls with a lethal dose of pentobarbital at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. 

But the country’s highest court intervened, issuing a temporary stay of Smulls’ execution without explanation.

Missouri’s death warrant for Smulls is valid for all day Wednesday and could proceed with the execution at any moment if the Supreme Court lifts the stay. That’s why states customarily schedule executions for one minute past midnight; if the courts intervene, lawyers for the state can spend the next 23 hours and 59 minutes trying to convince judges that they can go ahead with the execution.

The Supreme Court is expected to take up Smulls case early Wednesday morning; the court has two issues to decide upon.

Smulls was convicted in a 1991 shooting in a St. Louis County jewelry store that left the owner dead and his wife severely injured. 

Smulls’ attorneys spent Tuesday lodging last-minute appeals. They’re arguing that the state’s insistence on secrecy surrounding its death penalty protocol infringes on their ability to represent Smulls and his right not to suffer a cruel and unusual punishment.

Missouri insists that Smulls and the public should take the state’s word that it executes prisoners properly, despite a history of problems with its lethal injection protocol.

State officials have maintained that secrecy is needed to protect its execution team.

Related stories

* Here’s The Pitch’s feature-length examination of Missouri’s lethal injection problems, past and present.

* Attorneys for Smulls stuck in a legal quagmire as they try to keep their client out of the death chamber.

* Is Missouri obtaining its lethal injection drug illegally?

* Smulls’ attorneys demand that Oklahoma regulators recall the drug made there that Missouri is using for executions

* Missouri’s top corrections official decides to skip on House hearing on executions

* Lab that approved Missouri’s death penalty drug cleared New England drug that killed dozens

* Jay Nixon denies clemency for Smulls

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