U.S. Supreme Court Stays the Execution of Convicted Missouri Murderer

By Jonathan Cooper | jcooper@kq2.com

Published 01/28 2014 05:46PM

Updated 01/29 2014 05:35AM

(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) Members of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, an organization against capital punishment, fought to stop the execution of a convicted murderer who was set to die early Wednesday morning.

Students and members of the public gathered at Bishop LeBlond High School in St. Joseph for a prayer vigil Tuesday, just hours before Missouri's latest execution was scheduled to take place.

"What we are really hoping to do is say that we don't kill people for killing people," said MADP board member, Jean Swymeler.

All this comes after new controversy surrounding Missouri's execution methods.

"The law doesn't allow states to torture people and there's concern that the drug protocals used in lethal injections are torturing, at least some of the people we are executing," said Dr. David Tushaus, a Missouri Western professor and expert on capital punishment.

Missouri recently changed from a three drug system to just one. Aside from uncertainty about the drug's effects, secrecy surrounds where the state gets the drug. This has caused appeals and legal fights from those representing death row inmates.

"Their argument is this isn't something that Missouri can hold back from the public as well as the prisoners being executed, that this should be out in the open," Tushaus said.

The execution was planned for Herbert Smulls, a convicted murderer who killed a man in 1991. MADP said these executions are now more frequent because of recent legislation.

"There was a moratorium, but now the moratorium is lifted," Swymeler said. "But there is a repeal in the Senate and they are hoping to get a moratorium again."

For each scheduled execution, the organization holds prayer vigils for the victims and the accused. The vigil on Tuesday was to pray for Smulls.

"There are alternatives to the death penalty," Swymeler said.

MADP members will meet with state lawmakers in hopes of getting executions suspended once again. The group protested for Governor Jay Nixon to stop Smulls' execution because they claim his trial was not fair. Smulls' first trial had a multi-racial jury which resulted in a hung jury. His second trial had an all-white jury that sentenced him to death.

Governor Nixon decided late Tuesday evening to uphold the execution ruling, however, the execution was temporarily stayed late Tuesday night with an order from the United States Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.  The court is expected to rule later today on the case.

Missouri statutes allow executions to happen at any time on the day they're scheduled, which is why the state sets execution times for one-minute after midnight.  If the the court decides in favor of the state, the execution could still happen later today.

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