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Lethal Injection

Mo. Killer Executed After High Court Delay

Image: Herbert Smulls
Herbert Smulls Missouri Dept. of Corrections via AP

A convicted murderer was executed with a controversial lethal injection in Missouri on Wednesday night after a day-long reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Herbert Smulls, 56, who was on death row for murdering a St. Louis jeweler during a 1991 heist, was pronounced dead at 10:20 p.m. central time -- less than two hours before his execution warrant would have expired.

Smull was scheduled to die nearly 24 hours earlier, but the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay while the full court weighed two petitions filed by defense lawyers.

The high court later denied the petitions and removed the stay -- and then vacated a stay issued by a lower court -- and last-minute motions by the defense could not stop the execution.

The defense had challenged Missouri's current method of lethal injection, which relies on a loosely regulated, out-of-state compounding pharmacy for the drug it uses.

Smulls' lawyers also argued he did not get a fair trial because prosecutors improperly removed a black woman from the jury pool, resulting in an all-white jury.

The condemned man waited out the legal maneuvering with a mix of dread and optimism, his legal team said.

"Our client is having a very difficult day," lawyer Cheryl Pilate said several hours before the execution.

"He's trying to remain hopeful while at the same time the people who want to execute him are hovering outside his door."

After the execution, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster issued a statement saying that his "thoughts and prayers" were with the widow, friends and family of victim Stephen Honickman.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.