Too Impatient to Wait for Appeal to Wrap Up, Missouri Executes Prisoner Anyway

Thanks to movies and television, most of us have an image in our head of a prisoner about to have his or her life ended in jail undergoing a slow, exacting and detailed series of final moments — a last meal, a dramatic walk to wherever the execution will occur, perhaps a moment of tension while anticipation for a last minute reprieve lingers.

That’s not real life, however. Apparently in the real world, executions are a rushed affair. In Missouri, they can’t even be bothered to wait until the appeals process is fully complete.

According to Think Progress, that was exactly the case with Herbert Smulls. Smulls, who was given the death penalty for shooting and killing one person and permanently injuring another in a jewelry store robbery in 1991 was allegedly “in the middle of a phone call discussing his attorneys’ final efforts to save his life when he was reportedly seized by prison guards, hauled into an execution chamber, and injected with a toxic cocktail of drugs,” according to the progressive news site. He was officially pronounced dead four minutes before state Supreme Court officially gave permission to allow the execution to proceed.

If this sounds like an honest mistake, odds are it wasn’t. In fact as Andrew Cohen reports in The Atlantic, this is the third case in the state of an execution beginning before all legal appeals had been officially exhausted. This troubling trend may actually be perpetuated by correction officials who have taken it upon themselves to decide when the convicted have had enough time to win their appeals if they were going to. Jim Liberman, a Columbia Law School professor told the Associated Press that “it is unusual, but not unheard of, for an execution to proceed with an appeal still pending,” and that “…corrections officials could reach the point of believing that enough is enough.”

In the Smulls case, “enough” was apparently the 20 years that had passed since he was convicted and given the death penalty in 1993. His most recent appeals, however, revolved around concerns over the unidentified drug maker that would be producing the drug used in the lethal injection. According to Smulls’ lawyer, lethal injection drugs are not subject to Federal Food and Drug Administration oversight, leaving the potential for suffering during the execution.

The corrections officials may have seen this as a worthless last minute gambit, but recent history actually would have been on Smulls’ side. In January, an Ohio inmate reportedly took 15 gasping, strangling minutes dying via lethal injection after a new drug was tested on him, violating the rule against cruel and unusual punishment. Now, Louisiana has put its own upcoming execution off while an appeal is being heard over a death row inmate being subject to a previously untried in the state lethal injection drug, too.

The death penalty on its own is a highly problematic solution to criminal action. It is often applied disproportionately to people of color, and a shocking number of those who are on death row have later been found to have been wrongly convicted of crimes. Just those two facts alone make it unfathomable that corrections officers should ever take it upon themselves to begin an execution before absolutely every last legal challenge has been completely exhausted.

Until the day that we rightfully end the death penalty all together, at the very least we must insist that everything possible is done to ensure a person about to be executed receives as much justice as the system will allow.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Rainbow W.
.2 years ago

And I haven’t seen you present any facts as of yet, only sentiment.

Rainbow W.
.2 years ago

“I went to several of the sites you posted and found many to be based on opinion and not fact.”
Really? I guess San Diego State University is just a back water dive. Helsingin Sanomat, abbreviated HS and colloquially known as Hesari, is the largest subscription newspaper in Finland and the Nordic countries, owned by Sanoma; comparable to The Wall Street Journal. Unlike our papers HS has been politically independent and non-aligned since the 1930s. I guess you only read news that has political leanings? Furthermore, this article included references.

Also statistic are fallible and only show part of the story. [] Finland allows for “mediation” between the offender and victim. Essentially allowing criminals to buy their way out of prison. Rich people can commit all the crimes they want and basically never get punished. Why did they create the Act on Mediation in Penal and Certain Civil Matters of January 2006 (Nr. 1015/2006)? Because people were clamoring about the high cost of the legal system. What better way to reduce those costs then to not prosecute and let criminals walk free? And the wealthy benefit. For small crimes maybe this might be useful [theft], but murder or rape?

“You seem entrenched in your desire to execute.”
You seem entrenched in your desire to reward the criminal.

Tell me, you say you visited prisoners, in what capacity?

And I haven’t seen you present any facts as of yet, only s

Rainbow W.
.2 years ago

“As a human being I also sometimes would like to see a person suffer a horrible death if they have done something really bad. But my personal feelings don't make it right.”
You are once again using emotion. It has nothing to do with vengeance. It’s about safety.

“I read your comments and must say you certainly have 'justified' your stance quite well.”
Not justifying, just using logic. You justify to assuage your conscience.

“But any stance can be justified by evidence if it is only one sided.”
Indeed, and you only see one side. When one has no logical rebuttal they resort to insults and emotion. Equating the death penalty to the holocaust is illogical and hypocritical. We kill all the time. Why is it acceptable for a soldier or a police man to kill? Or kill a plant or animal for food? Choosing what to kill make you feel better? One should be driven by logic not emotion.

Rainbow W.
.2 years ago

“I believe that every person should have a chance at redemption.”
Even if that person keeps killing and torturing? I do believe in rehabilitation. Especially for minor offences. The greater the offence the greater the punishment. We should focus on the worst problems and find better solutions for the little things.

“I have met people whom have committed horrible crimes.”
You wouldn’t make a good therapist if you can’t tell when someone is manipulating you. I treat children that become those criminals you have met. What you don’t realize is these people cannot be “fixed”. Antisocial Personality Disorder is genetic [or it can occur after brain trauma]. We are born with [or without] the capacity for empathy. I have never known anyone with a lack of empathy to be “cured”. Of course there are varying degrees. Many of these individuals won’t kill, they value their own hide too much. But those that do cannot be rehabilitated.

And killing takes on many forms. A person who gets in a bar fight and kills is usually far different from Ng. And the punishment should fit the crime. The former [while not being ‘rehabilitated’ can spend a few years in prison and age will lower testosterone]. But Ng would not stop. They only get craftier and don’t get caught.

Marc P.
Marc P.2 years ago

Rainbow W.: I read your comments and must say you certainly have 'justified' your stance quite well. But any stance can be justified by evidence if it is only one sided. Justification led to the Holocaust. You sell the Death Penalty the way a Snake Oil salesman sells his wares. You sound convincing. I went to several of the sites you posted and found many to be based on opinion and not fact. Especially the one you posted regarding Finland. You seem entrenched in your desire to execute. I seriously doubt that any intellectual discourse based on fact would sway your position.

Marc P.
Marc P.2 years ago

Too many comments to respond to!
Suba G: You ask "Marc Do you think people like Charles Ng & his partner should get a second chance?"
I believe that every person should have a chance at redemption. That is NOT "A second chance." I have met people whom have committed horrible crimes. Yet trough their sitting in their cells day after day, year after year, contemplating, confronting, and dealing with the enormity of their crimes they have become transformed people. They come to face that they will die alone in their tiny little cell with no one to love them, and deservedly so. And SOME of these people could have done great things and become great people until circumstances overwhelmed and took control of their lives. ( I understand that many people don't care about the ethics that I am talking about here.) Do I think these people should die in prison? - Yes. Absolutely. As a human being I also sometimes would like to see a person suffer a horrible death if they have done something really bad. But my personal feelings don't make it right.

Ruhee B.
Ruhee B.2 years ago

Welcome to America - a truly "civilised" country - NOT. America has been called the "New World" but in this respect they are still living in the darks ages. I feel truly grateful and blessed not to be a citizen or resident of this so called "New World".

Fi T.
Fi T.2 years ago

Why not to wait?

Georgia G.
Georgia a.2 years ago

Drat! Here I had been laboring all these years under the idea that prisoners were given all their rights and appeals. I find this almost impossible to believe. Was his lawyer not informed it was going to happen? I mean I'm all for a PROVEN GUILTY individual to receive his due justice, but only at the end of the entirety of his appeals. I do think, however, 20 years on death row is a little lengthy. He certainly didn't give his victim any extra time.

Panchali Yapa
Panchali Yapa2 years ago

Thank you