US High Court Temporarily Stays Mo. Execution

, The Associated Press

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Supreme court building in Washington DC, USA.
U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule Wednesday on two petitions regarding Missouri death row inmate Herbert Smulls, The Missouri Attorney General's office says.

Smulls' execution was temporarily stayed late Tuesday night with an order from the high court signed by Justice Samuel Alito. It was sent about two-and-a-half hours before Smulls was scheduled to die at 12:01 a.m. local time Wednesday.

Missouri statutes allow executions to occur at any time on the day they are scheduled — that's why the state always sets the execution time for a minute after midnight, in case there are court delays. If the U.S. Supreme Court decides in favor of the state, the execution could occur later Wednesday. Witnesses to the execution were told to report to the Bonne Terre prison by noon and await the high court ruling.

Smulls' lawyer, Cheryl Pilate, had made last-minute pleas Tuesday to spare his life, focusing on the state's refusal to disclose from which compounding pharmacy they obtain the lethal-injection drug, pentobarbital. But Missouri has argued the compounding pharmacy is part of the execution team — and therefore its name cannot be released to the public.

Smulls, 56, was convicted and sentenced to death for killing a St. Louis County jeweler and badly injuring his wife during a 1991 robbery.

Pilate says the stay is temporary while the high court reviews the case, but she is hopeful the stay will become permanent.

"We're happy to get the stay and we're glad the court is reviewing it," she said.

Eric Slusher, a spokesman for Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, said the high court is expected to rule on the two pending petitions Wednesday.

St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said talk about the drug is a smoke screen aimed at sparing the life of a cold-blooded killer. He noted that several courts have already ruled against Smulls, including U.S. District Court in Kansas City and the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Gov. Jay Nixon denied clemency Tuesday evening.

Pilate contends that the state's secrecy makes it impossible to know whether the drug could cause pain and suffering during the execution process.

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