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Supreme Court orders stay of execution for Missouri death row inmate

The US Supreme Court [official website] issued an order [text] Tuesday evening staying the execution of Missouri death row inmate Herbert Smulls. Smulls, who was convicted [AP report] and sentenced to death for killing a jewelry store owner and injuring his wife during a robbery in 1991, was scheduled to die at 12:01 AM Wednesday. Smulls' attorney filed a last minute stay of execution Tuesday, highlighting the state's refusal to disclose the name of the pharmacy that produces the lethal-injection drug, pentobarbital [PubChem profile] to be used in the execution. According to the Associated Press, the state has argued that the pharmacy is part of the execution team and, therefore, cannot be released to the public. Missouri utilized pentobarbital to execute two inmates last year. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on Smulls' petition Wednesday.

The shortage of sodium thiopental in the US has caused several states to modify lethal injection protocol. The prolonged execution [JURIST report] of convicted murderer Dennis McGuire last week has stirred a controversy over new drugs used to administer lethal injections. Earlier this month McGuire's attorneys sought a stay of execution [JURIST report] with the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio [official website], claiming that the untried execution method would cause McGuire to experience a suffocation-like syndrome known as air hunger. In August a state judge in Arkansas ruled [JURIST report] that a state law provision allowing "any other chemical or chemicals" to be used for lethal injections violates the constitution's protection against cruel and unusual punishment. In 2011 two Texas inmates requested stays on their executions [USA Today report] to obtain more information on the new protocol and possibly challenge the protocol as unconstitutional. Texas acknowledged that its supply of sodium thiopental had an expiration date of March 1. Arizona, Georgia and Oklahoma have faced similar challenges and are seeking to substitute the sodium thiopental used in the lethal injection "cocktail" with pentobarbital.

1/30/14 ~ Smulls was executed Wednesday after the stay was lifted.

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