Missouri death row inmate’s hopes rest with courts

AP Missouri Execution Bucklew
FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2014 file photo provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections is Russell Bucklew who is scheduled to die for killing a romantic rival as part of a crime spree in southeast Missouri in 1996. Bucklew, who suffers from a congenital condition that causes weakened and malformed blood vessels, told the Associated Press Friday, May 16, 2014 that he is scared that the lethal drug could cause him to suffer or be left alive but brain-dead. His would be the first execution since Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett died of a heart attack 43 minutes after a vein collapsed following injection. (AP Photo/Missouri Department of Corrections, File)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Attorneys for a condemned Missouri inmate remain hopeful that a court will halt his execution, even though the governor has shown little inclination to do so himself.

Russell Bucklew, 46, is scheduled to be executed by injection at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday for killing a southeast Missouri man during a violent crime spree in 1996.

His attorneys, Lindsay Runnels and Cheryl Pilate, have asked the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to halt the execution, citing concerns about Missouri’s secretive process of purchasing the execution drug pentobarbital and worries that Bucklew could suffer during lethal injection because of a rare medical condition.

“The state does not have the right to inflict extreme, torturous pain during an execution,” Pilate said. “We still hope that Mr. Bucklew’s grave medical condition and compromised airway will persuade the governor or a court to step back from this extremely risky execution.”

Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat and a proponent of the death penalty, said that while he is considering Bucklew’s clemency request, he hasn’t seen a reason to intervene.

“This guy committed very, very heinous crimes, and while it’s a difficult and challenging part of this job, we’ll continue to move forward unless a court says otherwise,” Nixon said Monday.

In a separate appeal filed Tuesday to the U.S. Supreme Court, Bucklew claimed that corrections staff seized and destroyed information that he wanted to include in his clemency petition to Nixon. A spokesman for Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster offered no comment but cited a court document in which the state denies taking or destroying anything pertinent to the clemency request.

Attorneys for Bucklew also were seeking permission to record the execution on video. The Department of Corrections won’t allow it, and a federal district court judge on Monday turned down the request. Runnels said that ruling also was appealed to the federal appeals court.

Bucklew has a congenital condition known as cavernous hemangioma that causes weakened and malformed blood vessels, as well as tumors in his nose and throat. His attorneys say he could experience great suffering during the execution process, and Bucklew told The Associated Press by phone last week that he is scared of what might happen.

None of the six inmates executed since Missouri switched to pentobarbital last year has shown outward signs of pain or suffering. But when Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett’s execution went awry April 29, it prompted renewed concern over lethal injection.

Official said Lockett’s vein collapsed and he died of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after the start of the procedure. Oklahoma put on hold a second execution scheduled for the same night as Lockett’s death while the state investigates what happened.

European companies have cut off supplies of certain execution drugs because of opposition to capital punishment, forcing states including Missouri to turn to U.S. sources. The states refuse to identify the sources of their execution drugs, saying secrecy is necessary to protect the sources from possible retaliation by death penalty opponents.

Death penalty opponents say the secrecy makes it impossible to ensure that the drugs couldn’t cause an inmate to endure an agonizing death that rises to the level of unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

Nixon said the Missouri Department of Corrections works “very hard to make sure this challenging responsibility is handled as humanely as possible.”

The AP and four other news organizations filed a lawsuit last week against the Missouri Department of Corrections, claiming the state’s refusal to provide information on the execution drug violates the public’s constitutional right to have access to information about the punishment.

According to prosecutors, Bucklew was angry at his girlfriend, Stephanie Pruitt, for leaving him, and his threats led her to move with her two daughters into the Cape Girardeau home of another man, Michael Sanders, who had two sons. Bucklew tracked Pruitt down at Sanders’ home March 21, 1996, and killed Sanders in front of Pruitt and the four children. He handcuffed and beat Pruitt, drove her to a secluded area and raped her.

Later, after a state trooper spotted the car, Bucklew shot at the trooper but missed, authorities say. Bucklew was grazed in the head and hospitalized. He later escaped from jail, hid in the home of Pruitt’s mother and beat her with a hammer. She escaped, and Bucklew was arrested a short time later.

Pruitt later married and was killed by her husband in a murder-suicide in 2009.

 

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