by Robert A. Waters
F & M Crown Jewels was a mom-and-pop jewelry retailer in Chesterfield, Missouri. On July 27, 1991, Herbert Smulls and a teenage accomplice entered the store, pretending to shop for diamonds. Moments later, Smulls pulled a handgun. The Lawrence Journal-World reported that “a jeweler’s wife feigned death and listened to [her husband] plead with a gunman not to shoot him before he was fatally wounded during a robbery of their small store.” Florence Honickman was shot twice, while her husband, Stephen, died of four gunshot wounds.
Cops quickly captured Smulls speeding from the scene. Inside his car, investigators found the stolen jewelry. The smoking gun was recovered a few miles away—Smulls had thrown it from the car.
On July 29, 2014, Smulls died for his crimes. Death penalty opponents had fought hard to distract the public from learning the details of the murders. The Associated Press reported: “Smulls’ attorney, Cheryl Pilate, had filed numerous appeals challenging the state’s refusal to disclose where it obtained its execution drug, pentobarbital, saying that refusal made it impossible to know whether the drug could cause pain and suffering during the execution.”
St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch responded. “It was a horrific crime,” he said. “With all the other arguments that the opponents of the death penalty are making, it’s simply to try to divert the attention from what this guy did, and why he deserves to be executed. They planned it out, including killing people, whoever was there.”
It was indeed horrific. It was also unnecessary. While begging for his life, Honickman offered to give Smulls everything in the store.
After the execution, Florence Honickman spoke to the media. “Make no mistake,” she said, “the long, winding and painful road leading up to this day has been a travesty of justice. I felt pain and terror while I lay on the floor playing dead while the murderers ransacked our office.” She had been shot in the side and the arm, and lay in a pool of blood, forcing herself not to move. She suffered permanent injuries from the attack.
The victim also said it was a travesty of justice that the state had to spend millions of dollars to get justice for her family. Florence Honickman stated that it was her family, not Smulls, who suffered cruel and unusual punishment by having to wait 20 years for justice to prevail.
According to the Associated Press report of the execution, “Smulls mouthed a few words to the two witnesses there for him, who were not identified, then breathed heavily twice and shut his eyes for good. He showed no outward signs of distress.”