LUCASVILLE, Ohio – Ohio executed a man Thursday for the shooting death of a shopkeeper during a 1993 robbery, successfully using its new one-drug lethal injection method for the second time.
Vernon Smith, 37, was pronounced dead at 10:28 a.m., eight minutes after the single dose of sodium thiopental began flowing at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. That was faster than the 10 minutes it took for Kenneth Biros to die during the state's first execution with a single drug last month.
The single drug injection replaced the standard three-chemical combination that has come under legal attack by attorneys who say it can cause excruciating pain.
Experts had initially predicted the method would result in more drawn out executions. But the time it took Biros and Smith to die was about as long as it has taken other inmates in Ohio and elsewhere to succumb to the three-drug combination.
Smith had changed his name to Abdullah Sharif Kaazim Mahdi and converted to Islam after he was arrested. His final words were a prayer repeated four times in Arabic: "There is no God but God and Mohammed is his prophet."
Dressed in black coats, the two teenage daughters of victim Sohail Darwish witnessed the execution along with their mother, Charlotte Darwish. She had a baby, Dolly, and was pregnant with her second daughter, Mona, at the time Smith shot and killed her 28-year-old husband at his Toledo shop. Mona, now 16, is the youngest witness to an execution on record with the state.
Just before the execution process began, Charlotte Darwish, said "This is the beginning of the end, right?" and her youngest daughter replied, "Right." The mother asked the girl if she wanted to leave before the execution began, and she declined.
During the execution, the three occasionally sniffled but never cried.
Though Smith did not issue a deathbed apology, Darwish's widow said she was comforted by his actions Thursday. She said he was reciting the Muslim holy book, the Quran.
After a day of prayer and fasting Wednesday, Smith continued his prayer throughout the entire procedure Thursday.
His recitations continued as shunts were inserted into his arms, as he was strapped to the gurney, as the microphone was held to his mouth for a final statement, and until his eyes closed in death.
"He has found Allah, or religion or whatever it may be, hence in time, none of us ever know when that may be, his soul may be saved," Darwish said.
Atef Hamed, an imam and Smith's spiritual adviser, witnessed the execution on Smith's behalf. He gave no statement after the event.
Darwish was an immigrant raised in Saudi Arabia who had bought the Woodstock Market to provide for his young family.
Smith and two friends entered the store to steal money and some beer. Smith pulled out a gun and ordered Darwish to empty the cash register and hand over his wallet. Darwish grabbed for his money and Smith shot him once in the chest.
Charlotte Darwish said she never sold the store. She sold or donated the contents and locked the door.
"I couldn't do it," she said. "I couldn't put a price on the literally blood, sweat and tears he invested."
Darwish said she is remarried and moving to Alabama after her 16-year ordeal.
"I feel very bad for his family," she said of Smith. "My heart aches for them for what they're about to go through and endure, that we've been through these past 16 years."
Two other executions were scheduled for Thursday night in Texas and Louisiana.
Kenneth Mosley, 51, who was convicted of gunning down a suburban Dallas police officer during a failed bank robbery attempt in 1997, is set to die by lethal injection in Huntsville, Texas.
Gerald Bordelon, 47, is scheduled to be put to death by injection at the Louisiana State Penitentiary for murdering his 12-year-old stepdaughter seven years ago.