It is 2014, not 1964 or 1914, and yet on Wednesday night a black man in Missouri, a black man convicted by an all-white jury, was executed before his federal appeals had been exhausted. He was executed just moments after reportedly being hauled away by prison guards while he was in the middle of a telephone call discussing his appeals with one of his attorneys. He was executed even though state officials knew that the justices of the United States Supreme Court still were considering his request for relief.
Asked repeatedly not to execute Smulls while appeals were pending, state officials failed even to respond to emails from defense attorneys that night while corrections officials went ahead with the execution. Smulls thus was pronounced dead four minutes before the Supreme Court denied his final stay request. This was not an accident or some bureaucratic misunderstanding and did not come as a surprise to Smulls’ lawyers. They say it was the third straight execution in Missouri in which corrections officials went ahead with lethal injection before the courts were through with the condemned man's appeals.*
Just last month, for example, Missouri officials similarly executed a man named Allen Nicklasson before his appeals were concluded. That timing of that execution prompted a federal appeals court judge, 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Kermit Bye, to declare that he was “alarmed” that Missouri proceeded with its execution “before this court had even finished voting on Nicklasson's request for a stay. In my near fourteen years on the bench, this is the first time I can recall this happening.”