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Published: 6/18/2009

Shooter in '93 slaying of Toledoan to be executed Jan. 7

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Vernon L. Smith faces execution on Ohio's injection gurney Jan. 7 for the 1993 robbery and murder of the owner of a central Toledo carryout.

Decisions yesterday by the Ohio Supreme Court to set dates for Smith, 37, and two other death-row inmates mean nine people now are in line for the execution chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville between July and February.

Smith, also known as Abdullah Sharif Kaazim Mahdi, was convicted of shooting Sohail Darwish, owner of the Woodstock Carryout at Woodstock and Avondale avenues, during a May 26, 1993, robbery that went awry. Although Smith reportedly told his wife later that he shot 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.

Mr. Darwish, a 29-year-old Saudi Arabian immigrant, had a 1-year-old daughter and his wife was expecting their second child at the time of his death.

Smith and two co-conspirators escaped with more than $400 in cash and about $50 in food stamps, but they were arrested two weeks later.

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

Both co-conspirators pleaded guilty and testified against Smith at his trial, saying he became nervous when Mr. Darwish took too long to open the cash register drawer.

Layson testified Smith told him, "He shouldn't be in our neighborhood with a store, no way."

Smith received a death sentence on the murder charge and a prison sentence of 18 to 53 years for three aggravated robbery and firearm convictions.

He has exhausted his state and federal appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court twice refused to hear his case, most recently in April.

"It's about time. The execution was ordered back in 1994," John Weglian, chief of the Lucas County Prosecutor Office's special units division.

Smith offered no defense during the guilt phase of his trial.

But during the penalty phase, his wife and a psychologist suggested he was influenced by the movie Menace II Society, which he and his wife had reportedly watched the day of the murder. Its opening scene is similar to the Darwish murder.

Smith's latest attorney, assistant public defender Robert 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," his unsuccessful motion said.

Barring court intervention or clemency from Gov. Ted Strickland, Smith would be transported the roughly 250 miles from death row at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown to Lucasville, probably the day before his scheduled execution. Ohio's lethal injection process employs a three-drug mix designed to sedate the condemned inmate and then shut down his lungs and heart.

He would become the third Lucas County man executed since Ohio resumed carrying out the death penalty in 1999. All three involved robbery-murders.

Gregory Bryant Bey died Nov. 19, 2008, for the 1992 murder of Dale Pinkelman. Joseph Lewis Clark was put to death on May 2, 2006, for the 1994 killing of David Manning.

Ohio has executed 29 inmates since 1999, and the pace of execution scheduling has picked up recently in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in a Kentucky case, that generally upheld the constitutionality of the lethal injection process. The state Supreme Court recently decided to schedule executions no closer than three weeks apart.

- Jim Provance



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