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Missouri Executes Man Despite Risk of 'Cruel and Unusual Punishment'

Stay of execution lifted, as lethal drug suppliers remain in the dark

Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

The state of Missouri executed prisoner Herbert Smulls Wednesday, whose lethal punishment had been delayed over concerns that the controversial drug used for his lethal injection could cause inhumane suffering.

Following last minute appeals by the defense, a U.S. Supreme Court had ordered a temporary stay of execution on Tuesday only to remove it by Wednesday, leading to Smulls' death Wednesday night.

The plea concerned the state's refusal to disclose the name of the compounding pharmacy used to mix the drug, pentobarbital. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate compounding pharmacies but they are regulated by states. If not mixed properly the drug can cause "cruel and unusual punishment," as the defense argued.

Al Jazeera America reports:

Smulls’ attorneys spent the days leading up to the execution filing appeals that questioned the secretive nature of how Missouri obtains the lethal drug, saying that if the drug was inadequate, the inmate could suffer during the execution process. [...]

The U.S. Supreme Court granted a temporary stay late Tuesday before clearing numerous appeals Wednesday — including the final one that was filed less than 30 minutes before Smulls was pronounced dead, though the denial came about 30 minutes after his death.

U.S. states have increasingly turned to these compounding pharmacies for execution drugs because a number of drug companies in the European Union have begun withholding drugs from states who plan to use them for the death penalty.

Earlier this month Oklahoma executed prisoner Michael Wilson with an injection of pentobarbital. His last words were: “I feel my whole body burning.”

Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire was also executed this month using a untested cocktail of "experimental" execution drugs, which left him struggling and gasping for air for over twenty minutes.


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