High Court to Weigh Gas Execution for Killer With Blood Disorder

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Supreme Court took up a capital case Monday involving a tumor-ridden man who was described by one prosecutor as a “homicidal energizer bunny.”

Russell Bucklew was scheduled to die by injection in March 2018 for a brutal 1996 rape and murder in eastern Missouri. Bucklew faces a potentially “gruesome and painful” execution because of a rare medical condition that compromises the man’s veins and causes multiple tumors in his head and throat, his attorney has argued. (Jeremy Weis Photography via AP)

In 1997, a Missouri court convicted Russell Bucklew of stalking a woman to her boyfriend’s trailer, shooting the man dead, trying to shoot a fleeing child, then putting the woman in handcuffs, dragging her to a car and raping her.

The Supreme Court took up a capital case Monday involving a tumor-ridden man who was described by one prosecutor as a “homicidal energizer bunny.”

Missouri court convicted Russell Bucklew of stalking a woman to her boyfriend’s trailer, shooting the man dead, trying to shoot a fleeing child, then putting the woman in handcuffs, dragging her to a car and raping her.

He also wounded a police office in a subsequent shootout, later escaped from prison and attacked the mother of the woman he had raped with a hammer.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch meanwhile quoted attorney Morley Swingle, of Cape Girardeau County, as calling Bucklew “the most purely evil man I ever prosecuted.”

In his closing arguments, Swingle emphasized the persistence Bucklew showed in going after his targets, likening the defendant to “a homicidal Energizer bunny.”

But ahead of Bucklew’s scheduled execution in 2014, the Supreme Court granted a stay based on concerns about the defendant’s affliction with a rare disease called cavernous hemangioma.

Bucklew’s execution was rescheduled for this past March, but attorneys for the inmate at Sidley Austin and Morgan Pilate told the court that their 49-year-old client’s condition has only gotten worse.

Cavernous hemangioma causes weak and malformed blood vessels and vascular tumors to grow in Bucklew’s head and throat. Because the tumor in his throat already blocks Bucklew’s airway, requiring constant intervention to keep Bucklew from suffocating, an expert quoted in Bucklew’s petition said this throat tumor will likely rupture during the execution, causing a hemorrhage that would end with Bucklew’s choking on his own blood.

“Bucklew’s execution will very likely be gruesome and painful far beyond the pain inherent in the process of an ordinary lethal injection execution,” the petition states.

The Supreme Court granted Bucklew a second stay on March 23. Though the order lacked an accompanying opinion, it noted that the chief justice voted against the stay, as did Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.

Missouri has not had an execution since January 2017. Bucklew’s attorneys note that lethal gas is legal in Missouri and would be a suitable alternative for their client’s execution.

In Monday’s order, which also grants Bucklew leave to proceed in forma pauperis, the Supreme Court invited the parties to brief and argue whether Bucklew met his burden under the 2015 precedent Glossip v. Gross “to prove what procedures would be used to administer his proposed alternative method of execution, the severity and duration of pain likely to be produced, and how they compare to the state’s method of execution.”

Oklahoma and Mississippi both voted to authorize nitrogen gas as a backup execution method after the botched execution in Oklahoma of Clayton Lockett.

Lockett’s vein collapsed while the lethal drugs were being administered, and he eventually died of a heart attack after prison officials called off the execution.

Back in 2014, Bucklew was set to be the country’s first execution since the Lockett debacle.

As the justices were deliberating Bucklew’s stay last month, Alabama lawmakers passed their own measure approving nitrogen gas for executions.

The Associated Press noted meanwhile that Missouri would likely need to build a gas chamber before resurrecting an execution method not used since before Bucklew was born.a

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