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Execution date set for Toledoan convicted of killing store owner

COLUMBUS - After 17 years on Ohio's death row, convicted murderer Vernon L. Smith faces an execution date for the May 26, 1993, robbery murder of the owner of a central Toledo convenience store.

The Ohio Supreme Court Wednesday set execution dates for three death row inmates, including Smith, also known as Abdullah Sharif Kaazim Mahdi. He is scheduled to die on Jan. 7 on the state's injection gurney at the Southern Ohio Correctional Institution in Lucasville.

Smith was convicted of shooting Sohail Darwish, owner of the Woodstock Carryout at Woodstock and Avondale avenues, during a robbery that went awry. Although Smith insisted he shot hit Mr. Darwish in the arm and had not intended to kill him, the bullet severed an artery in the victim's shoulder, causing him to bleed to death.

Co-conspirator Herbert Bryson was sentenced to 10 to 25 years for involuntary manslaughter for his role in the crime, while Lamont Layson, who waited outside in the car, was sentenced to seven to 25 years for aggravated robbery.

Both pleaded guilty and testified against Smith at trial. Smith received a death sentence on the murder charge and a prison sentence of 18 to 53 years for aggravated robbery and firearm convictions. He has exhausted his state and federal appeals with the U.S. Supreme Court twice refusing to hear his case, most recently in April.

Smith's latest attorney, state Assistant Public Defender Robert K. Lowe, challenged Ohio's lethal injection process in urging the state Supreme Court not to set an execution date.

"The only court that has considered the merits of Ohio's lethal injection protocol found that the protocol creates an unnecessary and arbitrary risk that the condemned will experience an agonizing death, in violation of constitutional and statutory obligations that executions be quick and painless," reads his motion.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com, or 614-221-0496.

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