(CN) – Ridden with rare tumors, a man described by a prosecutor as a “homicidal energizer bunny” won his second stay of execution from the U.S. Supreme Court.
The justices granted the stay Tuesday night on the eve of Russell Bucklew’s execution in Missouri. Though the order lacks an accompanying opinion, it notes that the chief justice voted against the stay, as did Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.
There was no such note four years earlier when the court issued Bucklew his first stay, based on concerns that lethal injection would include needless suffering for Bucklew because he suffers from a rare disease called cavernous hemangioma.
In a March 15 petition for certiorari, 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 the 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 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 1997, Bucklew was convicted 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.
Because of his persistence in going after his victims, prosecutor Swingle had called Bucklew “a homicidal Energizer bunny” in his closing arguments.
Back in 2014, Bucklew’s execution would have been the first one in the country after the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma garnered international headlines. In that execution, Lockett’s vein collapsed while the lethal drugs were being administered. Lockett eventually died of a heart attack after prison officials called off the execution.
Since then, Oklahoma and Mississippi have both voted to authorize nitrogen gas as a backup execution method. On Tuesday, as the justices were deliberating Bucklew’s case, Alabama lawmakers passed their own measure approving nitrogen gas for executions.
Missouri meanwhile 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.
The Associated Press noted meanwhile that the state would likely need to build a gas chamber before resurrecting an execution method not used since before Bucklew was born.