The chaotic execution of Herbert Smulls

Missouri executed the man before his appeals were exhausted with a lethal cocktail with untested contents

By Natasha Lennard

Published February 5, 2014 3:53PM (EST)


Herbert Smulls' scheduled execution in Missouri had been stayed by the Supreme Court in light of the ongoing scandal surrounding the use of untried, untested lethal cocktails.

Herbert Smulls had not exhausted his appeals when he was killed by the state last Wednesday -- making him the third Missouri death row inmate in a row to be executed with appeals still pending. Smulls was killed with a previously untested lethal cocktail, information about which his lawyers had fought to discover. Smulls was killed without ever obtaining this information.

His is the latest disturbing execution (all executions are disturbing, these are especially so) as states push ahead with capital punishments in the midst of a pentobarbital shortage since the drug was banned in Europe for exportation for use in lethal injections. In Ohio a convicted death row inmate reportedly struggled and gasped for minutes during his execution last month, and an Oklahoma prisoner described his body burning once the untested lethal cocktail was administered.

Smulls' attorneys had emailed prosecutors in the attorney general’s office on the afternoon, evening and night of his execution, urging the state to wait until all appeals were exhausted. The execution was completed four minutes before the Supreme Court had ruled on his final appeal. According to a release:

Prior to his execution, Mr. Smulls fought to get information about the drug that would be used to execute him, but Missouri threw up a wall of secrecy around the execution drug, by naming the compounding pharmacy and testing laboratory to its “execution team” – thereby shielding them from disclosure... Compounded drugs are created by pharmacies that are not stringently regulated, and there is no way to ensure what is in the needle unless transparency is practiced regarding the sourcing and testing of drugs.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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