WASHINGTON — A Missouri death-row inmate will get the chance to argue before the Supreme Court that his execution would cause him “excruciating pain” and “needless suffering” because of a rare birth defect.
The high court Monday granted a petition to hear the case from 49-year-old Russell Bucklew. His attorneys say Bucklew, a convicted murderer and rapist, suffers from cavernous hemangioma, which causes weakened and malformed blood vessels, tumors in his nose and throat and bleeding from his nose, eyes and ears.
Because of the birth defect, Bucklew’s attorney argues, a lethal injection would cause so much pain, it would amount to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. In court papers, the attorneys say lethal injection would cause Bucklew’s tumors to burst and that he would choke on his own blood.
Bucklew’s lawyers have suggested that if the state executes him that it use nitrogen gas instead of lethal injection. But the state no longer has a gas chamber.
In March, a divided Supreme Court stayed Bucklew’s scheduled execution for a second time.
Bucklew was convicted in 1998 of first-degree murder, kidnapping, burglary and forcible rape. Angry at his ex-girlfriend, Stephanie Pruitt, after she moved in with another man, Michael Sanders, Bucklew fatally shot Sanders in front of Pruitt, her children and Sanders’ children, then handcuffed, beat and raped Pruitt. Bucklew fired at Sanders’ 6-year-old son but missed and shot and wounded a state trooper. After escaping from jail, Bucklew beat Pruitt’s mother with a hammer at her home.
Prosecutor Morley Swingle had described Bucklew as “the most evil person I’ve ever prosecuted.” Missouri’s Supreme Court had rejected Bucklew’s appeals and set a March 2017 execution date.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Bucklew v. Anne L. Precythe, director of the Missouri Department of Corrections, during its next term, which begins in October.