US Supreme Court halts Missouri execution of Russell Bucklew at last minute

Henrietta Strickland
March 21, 2018

U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday granted a stay of execution to a Missouri inmate who argued the process could cause him undue suffering.

"We're very relieved... as we got closer to 6-o'clock, I started to get a little nervous and had to wonder if we were going to have to watch something horrific", said Esmie Tseng of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

He was moments away from execution in May 2014 when the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay to allow Bucklew's lawyers more time to pursue a lawsuit challenging his death sentence on the basis of his medical condition.

Bucklew suffers from a rare disease known as cavernous hemangioma, which causes blood-filled tumors in his head, neck and throat.

Attorney Cheryl Pilate says executing Bucklew would violate his constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. According to court documents, Dr. Joel Zivot, a professor of surgery and anesthesiology at Emory University said that "substantial risk" exists that Bucklew will "suffer from extreme or excruciating pain".

Last week, in the appeal Bucklew's lawyers filed with the US Supreme Court, they asked for the court to spare his life and painted a grim picture of what could happen during the execution.

However, Bucklew's defense argued that he had a medical condition that could cause vast suffering during his execution. A spokesman for the governor declined comment.

According to his attorney, Bucklew has a number of tumors that, if exposed to the active drug used for lethal injections, would rupture and choke Bucklew before he died of the injection.

None of the 20 inmates executed since Missouri began using pentobarbital in 2013 have shown obvious signs of pain or suffering. Hawley said in court filings that Bucklew slashed Ray's face with a knife, beat her and threatened to kill her. He eventually found out where she was staying and broke into the southeastern Missouri trailer home of Michael Sanders, Ray's new boyfriend, fatally shooting him.

After a state trooper spotted Bucklew's auto, Bucklew shot at the trooper but missed, court records say. While on the run, he went to the home of Ray's mother and attacked her with a hammer, but she survived.

Last week Bucklew filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to review that ruling, which he described as resting on "3 distinct misreadings and unsafe extensions of this Court's" earlier decisions on lethal injection.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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