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Thursday, January 7, 2016


            On this date, January 7, 2010, Vernon Smith AKA known as Abdullah Sharif Kazim Mahdi, was executed by lethal injection in Ohio. He was convicted of the May 26, 1993 murder of Palestinian Migrant. Vernon Smith had converted to Islam and changed his name to Mahdi.


Summary: Sohail Darwish was a palestinian immigrant who owned and operated a small store called the Woodstock Market in Toledo. Smith and Bryson made plans to rob the store and entered together. As Darwish was ringing up the sale on the cash register for a forty ounce beer, Smith brandished a black gun and ordered Darwish to “[o]pen the cash register, motherfucker.” Darwish put his hands up in the air and did not resist. Bryson went behind the counter and unsuccessfully attempted to open the register. Bryson then ordered Darwish to open the cash register, which he did. Darwish then put his hands back up in the air. Smith then told Darwish to "empty your wallet, motherfucker.” As Darwish was reaching for his wallet, Smith fired a single shot, hitting Darwish in the chest. Smith then ordered Tahboub to empty his wallet as well, and the two assailants then fled the scene. Darwish bled to death from the gunshot wound.Layson, who was waiting in Bryson's car, noticed Smith holding a gun in his hand when he and Bryson climbed back into the automobile. According to Layson, Smith complained about forgetting to get the beer and said he shot the man because “he moved too slow,” and then said “[F]uck him, he in our neighborhood anyway. He shouldn't be in our neighborhood with a store no way.” Later, Smith, Bryson and Layson split the money taken. Bryson and Layson pled guilty and testified against Smith at trial, along with a customer who identified Smith as the shooter. 

Accomplice Bryson was sentenced to 8-25 years for Involuntary Manslaughter. Accomplice Layson was sentenced to 10-25 for Aggravated Robbery and paroled in 2001. 

State v. Smith, 89 Ohio St.3d 323, 731 N.E.2d 645 (Ohio 2000) (Direct Appeal).
Mahdi v. Bagley, 522 F.3d 631 (6th Cir. 2008) (Habeas). 

Final/Special Meal:
Whole and chopped dates as well as hot tea with lemon and honey. He was also given a miswak, a tree branch used to clean teeth, as well as olive oil, which he used to lubricate his beard. 

Final Words:
"There's no god but God, and Mohammed is his prophet." 

Internet Sources:
Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction(Clemency Report)
Inmate#: OSP #A288-960
Inmate: Vernon Lamont Smith n/k/a Abdullah Sharif Kaazim Mahdi
DOB: April 7, 1972
County of Conviction: Lucas County
Date of Offense: May 26, 1993
Case Number: 93-6197
Date of Sentencing: March 22, 1994
Presiding Judge: James D. Bates
Prosecuting Attorney: Anthony G. Pizza, Chris Anderson
Institution: Southern Ohio Correctional Facility
Convictions: Count 1: Aggravated Murder (Death), Count 3&4: (Aggravated Robbery (8-25-years), Count 5: Aggravated Robbery (7-25 years). 

Toledo Blade
"Toledoan Smith was put to death under a new death house protocol," by Jim Provance. (Jan 08, 2010) 

COLUMBUS - As he repeatedly recited a Muslim vow in Arabic, Toledo native Vernon Lamont Smith took what appeared to be a deep yawn, fell unconscious, and became the second person in the nation executed in an unusual one-drug process yesterday. 

"There's no god but God, and Mohammed is his prophet. That's what he's saying," said Charlotte Darwish, the widow of Smith's victim, as she watched the execution with her two daughters. It was the same proclamation - a translated version of the affirmation of Muslim faith - that she had frequently heard her late husband, Sohail Darwish, recite. 

Smith, who converted to Islam and legally changed his name to Abdullah Sharif Kaazim Mahdi while on death row, was pronounced dead at 10:28 a.m. at the Southern Ohio Correctional Institution in Lucasville. He was the 34th person executed by the state since 1999. 

On May 26, 1993, Mahdi, brandishing a gun, walked into the Woodstock Carryout in central Toledo with Herbert Bryson while Bryson's cousin, Lamont Layson, waited in the car. Mahdi shot the store owner, Mr. Darwish, a 28-year-old Palestinian reared in Saudi Arabia who immigrated to Toledo. 

Mr. Darwish left behind his wife and daughter, Dolly, who was just shy of her first birthday. A second daughter, Mona, was born three months later. Gov. Ted Strickland on Wednesday denied Mahdi's request for clemency as his lawyers contended he had not intended to kill Mr. Darwish but rather thought he had shot him in the arm. The bullet actually hit Mr. Darwish in the upper chest near his shoulder, severing an artery that led him to bleed to death. 

The execution process lasted 28 minutes. The prison execution team seemed to have little trouble finding usable veins through which the powerful anesthetic thiopental sodium could flow. 

Fourteen minutes into the process, Mahdi stood and took 17 steps into the execution chamber. He appeared to make eye contact with his imam, Atef Hamed, as he entered the room. But after he was strapped onto the gurney, he stared only at the ceiling or closed his eyes as he appeared to silently mouth inaudible words. He never looked at or addressed the Darwish family.
When the warden asked him if he had a final statement, he audibly repeated the prayer four times in Arabic and then returned to repeating it silently. It was Mrs. Darwish who told others in the room, including media witnesses, what he was saying.
At 10:21 a.m. he fell silent, appeared to yawn once deeply, and then fell asleep. He appeared to stop breathing two minutes later. At 10:28, a member of the medical team checked for a heartbeat. A curtain blocking the view of the room was closed as a coroner examined Mahdi. When the curtain was reopened at 10:30, death was declared to have occurred two minutes earlier. 

Ater leaving the death house, Mrs. Darwish said she found comfort in hearing Mahdi recite the vow. "There's no apology. However, he doesn't realize it, but I'm grateful that he recited that… Translated, it means, 'There's only one God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet and messenger,' " Mrs. Darwish said. "He has found Allah, or religion, or whatever it may be. Hence, perhaps in time, none of us know when, his soul may be saved for his actions here on Earth." 

According to Dr. S. Zaheer Hasan, a spokesman for the United Muslim Association of Toledo, the vow, known as shahada, is one of the five pillars of Islam. People make the proclamation upon becoming a Muslim and restate it often during their lives to affirm that there is only one God. Since "Allah" is Arabic for God, it can be translated either way correctly: "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet," or "There is no God but God and Mohammed is his prophet." 

Mrs. Darwish said she asked her two daughters whether they wanted to be with her as she watched her husband's killer die. But she said they assured her they did. "My concern was, are they here because they want to be, or is it because they have to be because of me?" she said. "They chose to do it." 

Mona, 16, became the youngest witness of an Ohio execution. Neither she nor her sister talked to reporters. Although sniffles could be heard, there were no obvious tears. Mona declined a tissue when her mother offered it. Mrs. Darwish has since remarried Dennis Martin. The family plans to move soon from Toledo to Alabama where Mr. Martin works. 

Mahdi spent his final hours of life in prayer with a pair of Islamic imams and on the phone throughout the night and wee hours of the morning with family and a friend. Mahdi fasted Wednesday from sunrise to sunset, and was with Mr. Hamed when he broke the fast that night with a "special meal'' of whole and chopped dates as well as hot tea with lemon and honey. He was also given a miswak, a tree branch used to clean teeth, as well as olive oil, which he used to lubricate his beard. 

Since arriving at the prison Wednesday morning, he spent much of his time praying, engaging in ceremonial feet washing, reading, and talking on the telephone with someone identified as his wife, a cousin, a friend, and one of his state attorneys. 

He also wrote two letters to unidentified individuals that he asked be mailed after his death. "He was very calm and peaceful," said Ohio Public Defender Tim Young, who spoke with Mahdi via telephone on Wednesday. "He had accepted the governor had denied clemency and what was going to happen." 

Ohio's unique new lethal injection protocol involves a massive dose of thiopental sodium. The prior procedure involved a series of three drugs. Ohio remains the only state to use a one-drug process. It has yet to use the fallback process in the event the execution team fails to find usable veins - the direct injection of two drugs into muscle tissue. 

Columbus Dispatch

"Toledo killer executed; Last words are Islamic creed," by James Nash. (January 7, 2010 11:50 AM)
LUCASVILLE, Ohio -- A Toledo man convicted of fatally shooting a convenience-store owner in 1993 this morning became the second person in the U.S. to be put to death using a single drug. Vernon Smith, 37, was pronounced dead at 10:28 after Lucasville prison staff administered a fatal dose of thiopental sodium, a powerful anesthetic. 

He was the second death-row inmate to be put to death with a single drug after Ohio switched from a three-drug system in November. The change came after a botched execution attempt in October. "I'm sure there are plenty of people across the country who are watching what we're doing today," said state prisons director Terry Collins before the execution. 

Asked for a final statement, Smith, who converted to Islam and changed his name to Abdullah Sharif Kaazim Mahdi in prison, repeated in Arabic four times: "There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his prophet." 

Smith was convicted of fatally shooting Sohail Darwish, a 28-year-old immigrant from Saudi Arabia who owned a convenience store in Toledo that Smith and two accomplices robbed. Even though Darwish complied with the men's orders to hand over money from the cash register and his wallet, Smith shot him in the chest. Darwish, who bled to death, had a 1-year-old daughter, and his wife was pregnant with another girl. His widow and daughters came to the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville today to witness Smith's execution. 

Prison staff were easily able to find a vein in Smith's arm. A 5-gram dose of the lethal drug was administered at 10:20. Smith was pronounced dead eight minutes later. He appeared to mouth verses from the Quran as prison staff prepared him for the injection. Within a minute of the lethal drug entering his system, Smith's lips slowed. At 10:21, his mouth opened wide and his head jerked back slightly. He twitched for a couple of minutes after that but did not speak. 

Darwish's widow and daughters witnessed the scene. They sniffled a little but there was no outpouring of emotion. At 10:03, Charlotte Darwish, Sohail's widow, turned to younger daughter Mona and said: "OK, so this is the beginning of the end, right, Mona?" Charlotte, who has remarried and is moving to Alabama with her daughters and husband, took questions from reporters afterward. Smith's imam did not. 

Charlotte Darwish (she did not give a new last name) said that while she found it ironic that Smith adopted her late husband's religion while in jail, she did not begrudge him his beliefs. "He has found Allah or religion, whatever that may be, hence in time -- none of us know when that may be -- his soul may be saved," she said. "With the death of Vernon Smith, the unfortunate death of two people, two human beings, because of his hand, it is now the beginning of the end," she said. "As far as Vernon Smith, his life here on Earth, it is the end. What doors will open after that, I don't know." 

Smith did not appear to show remorse over the murder and did not cooperate during clemency hearings. Still, two of the seven state Parole Board members recommended clemency Dec. 11. Gov. Ted Strickland, who admitted he wrestled with the decision, said late yesterday afternoon he would not to spare Smith's life. 

Smith arrived at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville at 9:45 a.m. yesterday. He fasted from sunrise to sunset before eating a meal of whole and chopped dates and hot tea with lemon and honey. He also received olive oil to groom his beard and a "miswak" stick, a twig from the Peelu tree commonly used in Muslim countries to clean the teeth. 

Dates are recommended in the Islamic faith to consume when ending a fast. Smith spent the night on the phone with a friend and a cousin before meeting with a mental-health counselor at dawn, prison officials said. He then huddled with two spiritual advisers: Iman Atif Hamed and Iman Sunni Ali.
Smith did not eat breakfast. He had two brief phone calls with his wife yesterday before learning at 5:27 p.m. that Strickland had denied clemency. Smith's reaction was positive and respectful, a prison spokeswoman said.

"Family sees end of dad's killer; Second execution with single drug has no complications," by James Nash. (Friday, January 8, 2010 3:09 AM) 

LUCASVILLE, Ohio— As prison staffers prepared Vernon Smith to receive a fatal dose of an anesthetic, his victim's widow whispered to her daughter, "OK, so this is the beginning of the end, right, Mona?" 

Mona Darwish, who was still in the womb when Smith fatally shot her father at a Toledo convenience store in 1993, nodded. About 25 minutes later, the 16-year-old became the youngest person to witness an execution in Ohio, at least since the state resumed capital punishment in 1999. 

Smith, 37, was pronounced dead at 10:28 a.m. yesterday, eight minutes after staff members at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville administered a 5-gram dose of the powerful anesthetic sodium thiopental. 

He was the second person in the country to be put to death using a single drug. The state had used a series of three chemicals but abandoned that protocol after executioners were unable to find a suitable vein to inject a convicted killer in September. There were no complications with Smith's execution. He mouthed verses from the Quran as medics prepared him for injection, and his lips continued moving until about a minute after the chemical entered his body. After that, his mouth opened wide and his head jerked back, and then he was largely motionless. 

Smith died without addressing the family of Sohail Darwish, whom Smith killed while robbing Darwish's Toledo carryout in May 1993. Smith and two accomplices demanded that Darwish turn over the cash from his cash register and wallet. Even though Darwish complied, Smith shot him once in the chest. Darwish, 28, bled to death. 

Darwish's widow, Charlotte, and daughters Mona, now 16, and Dolly, 17, remained mostly silent as prison officials located a vein in Smith's left arm, inserted a needle and then pumped the fatal chemical into his bloodstream. 

Smith converted to Islam while in prison and changed his name to Abdullah Sharif Kaazim Mahdi. Asked whether he wished to make a final statement, the condemned inmate, wearing a traditional Muslim kufi cap, repeated an Islamic creed in Arabic four times. The statement translates roughly to, "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet." 

Addressing reporters after Smith was pronounced dead, Charlotte Darwish said she was neither surprised nor especially disappointed that Smith did not apologize. "He doesn't realize it, but I am grateful that he recited that line," she said of the Islamic creed. "He has found Allah or religion, whatever that may be, hence in time -- none of us know when that may be -- his soul may be saved."
Although Smith was married, his wife did not witness his execution. His only witness was Atef Hamed, an imam. Hamed remained silent during the execution and did not speak to reporters afterward. He planned to officiate at an Islamic burial for Smith later in the day. 

Charlotte Darwish has remarried and is moving to Alabama, where her husband works. She closed Sohail Darwish's store after the murder. Yesterday, she remembered her late husband -- a Palestinian who was raised in Saudi Arabia -- for his enthusiasm about all things American. "He loved the United States and he embraced everything it had to offer -- from the people to the food, everything about the United States," she said. "Things we take for granted." 

Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Man who killed Toledo store owner in 1993 scheduled to be executed," by Julie Carr Smith. (AP January 07, 2010) 

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When Vernon Smith enters the execution chamber for the 1993 shooting and killing of an Arab store owner, he'll do so as Abdullah Sharif Kaazim Mahdi. 

It's unclear what role the shopkeeper's heritage played in the shooting, but his family members will find themselves 16 years later watching a fellow Muslim put to death. 

Smith's execution, scheduled for 10 a.m. today, was to be the second using Ohio's unique single-drug lethal-injection method instead of its previous three-drug system. The state made history last month by becoming the first to execute an inmate, Kenneth Biros, with an intravenous infusion of only sodium thiopental, a common anesthetic. 

Smith, 37, fasted from sunrise to sunset Wednesday at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility and then took a last meal of chopped and whole dates and hot tea with honey and lemon. He also requested a miswak, a Muslim teeth-cleaning implement, and olive oil to lubricate his beard. 

With his legal appeals exhausted, he and his attorneys waited with anticipation until late Wednesday to hear whether Gov. Ted Strickland would grant him clemency. His attorneys had argued that a botched robbery attempt by a 21-year-old raised by an abusive stepfather is not what the death penalty was intended for. 

Strickland disagreed, turning down Smith's plea for mercy. The governor agreed with the majority recommendation of the Ohio Parole Board. 

Smith, who is black, was sentenced to death for killing 29-year-old Sohail Darwish, who was raised in Saudi Arabia. Smith, wielding a gun, and two friends entered Darwish's carryout store in Toledo, demanded cash and stole beer. When Darwish grabbed for his money, Smith shot him once in the chest. Smith's friends told investigators that when he got back in their car, he said Darwish "shouldn't be in our neighborhood with a store, no way." 

Darwish had a baby daughter, and his wife was pregnant with a second. Charlotte Darwish and her two girls -- Dolly, now 17, and Mona, 16 -- planned to witness Thursday's execution. Mona would be the youngest witness on record with the state, prisons spokeswoman Julie Walburn said.
Charlotte Darwish told the Parole Board in early December that her husband was devoted to the store and his customers. "My husband did belong in that neighborhood," she said. "He helped that neighborhood." 

Smith's public defender Rob Lowe said evidence never bore out the allegation that Smith shot Darwish because he was Muslim. "Because it was an interracial crime, there was one statement made by him as a reason, but there are a lot of other things that contradict that, that show this wasn't a racial crime," Lowe said. "The evidence all shows and statements show that he went in there to rob." 

Lowe said Smith converted to Islam shortly after his arrest and has never indicated the decision was related to the crime. 


During the afternoon of May 26, 1993, Vernon Lamont Smith met up with Herbert Bryson and Lamont Layson at a dirt basketball court in a park at Highland and Maplewood in Toledo. The trio discussed "hitting a lick," i.e., committing a robbery. The group got in Bryson’s car, and Smith directed them to the corner of Woodstock and Avondale, where the Woodstock Market was located. Layson remained in the car while Smith and Bryson headed toward the carryout. Jeremiah Bishop, who was two houses down from the Woodstock Market at that time, saw Smith and another person enter the carryout.

Bryson testified that after he and Smith entered the carryout, they noticed only two people in the store, both of whom were behind the counter. Bryson asked about a type of beer, and the storeowner, Sohail Darwish, came around the counter and walked over to the cooler to assist him. Darwish retrieved a forty-ounce beer bottle from the cooler and placed it on the counter. Bryson did the same. As Darwish was ringing up the sale on the cash register, Smith brandished a black gun and ordered Darwish to "open the cash register, motherf***er." Darwish, who was standing next to Bryson, put his hands up in the air and did not resist.

Bryson went behind the counter and hit several buttons on the cash register, trying to open it. Bryson then ordered Darwish to open the cash register, which he did. Darwish then put his hands back up in the air. Osand Tahboub, a former co-worker who was visiting Darwish at the carryout at that time, testified that the gunman then told Darwish to "move and empty your wallet, mother***er." As Darwish was reaching for his wallet, Smith fired a single shot, hitting Darwish in the chest. Smith then ordered Tahboub to empty his wallet as well, and the two assailants then fled the scene. Darwish was able to push the alarm button before he fell to the floor. As a result of the single gunshot wound to the upper left side of his chest, Darwish bled to death.

After Smith and Bryson left the carryout, Layson, who was waiting in Bryson’s car, noticed Smith holding a gun in his hand when he and Bryson climbed back into the automobile. According to Layson, Smith exclaimed, "Dang, I forgot the beer." When Bryson asked Smith "why did he do it," Smith replied that he shot the man "in the arm" because "he moved too slow," and that "he took too long opening the cash register." According to Layson, Smith then said, "F*** him, he in our neighborhood anyway. He shouldn’t be in our neighborhood with a store no way." Later, Smith and Bryson split the money taken in the robbery, which was apparently over $400. They also gave Layson all the stolen food stamps from the robbery plus $50.

On June 9, approximately two weeks after the murder, police detective Dennis Richardson received information that persons possibly involved in a homicide were incarcerated in the Sandusky County Jail. Based on this and other information he received from sources, Richardson made up an eight-man photo array, including a photo of Herbert Bryson, to show to Tahboub. The next day, upon viewing the array, Tahboub selected Bryson’s photo as "not the guy with the gun, but the other guy." Based on this information and the fact that computer records showed Smith as a known associate of Bryson, Richardson compiled a second photo array that included a picture of Smith. Richardson showed Tahboub the second photo array, and Tahboub immediately selected Smith’s photo as that of the gunman.

Consequently, Smith was arrested, and along with Bryson and Layson, was indicted by the grand jury in the Darwish murder. In count one, Smith was charged with aggravated felony-murder during an aggravated robbery. A death penalty specification attached to this count alleged that Smith was the principal offender in the aggravated murder during a robbery. The second count charged Bryson and Layson with aggravated felony-murder during an aggravated robbery. Counts three through five charged all three defendants with aggravated robbery of the carryout, of Darwish, and of Tahboub respectively. All five counts also carried firearm specifications.

Prior to trial, defense counsel informed the trial judge that the prosecution had offered Smith a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty. However, Smith declined the plea offer contrary to the advice of defense counsel. At an in-chambers conference, Smith reiterated his desire to decline the plea bargain and proceed to trial.

A jury trial was held wherein both Bryson and Layson testified for the state as a result of plea agreements. Bryson, who was in the carryout at the time of the shooting, testified that Smith fired the gunshot that caused Darwish’s death. Layson testified that Smith exhibited no remorse when he admitted that he had shot the carryout owner. Tahboub also testified and identified Smith as the murderer. The defense presented no witnesses and made no closing argument at the conclusion of trial.

After deliberation, the jury found Smith guilty as charged. At the mitigation hearing, several witnesses testified on Smith’s behalf, including his wife, mother, and a psychologist, Robert Kahl, who evaluated Smith. In Kahl’s opinion, Smith suffers from a mental illness, but Kahl was unable to identify it specifically, since he was unable to complete his evaluation due to Smith’s lack of cooperation during the interview process. Smith’s mother testified that Smith’s biological father was never around during Smith’s childhood. In addition, Smith’s stepfather physically abused the mother in front of the children, including Smith. Smith’s wife, Grace Smith, testified that Smith broke down and cried one or two days after the murder and told her that it was an accident, and that he didn’t mean to do it. The jury recommended death, and the court imposed the death sentence on Smith.

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