Monday, May 12, 2014
Death row inmate Russell Bucklew is seeking an emergency injunction to prevent Missouri from killing him. Bucklew claims he has a rare medical condition the will cause "tortuous pain" during his execution, in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishments." The Courthouse News Service (CNS) tells his story:
Bucklew was convicted in 1997 of first-degree murder, kidnapping, first-degree burglary, rape and armed criminal action. He shot Michael Sanders to death and then kidnapped his ex-girlfriend and raped her before being wounded in a shootout with police.
Later, Bucklew escaped from prison and attacked his ex-girlfriend's mother with a hammer. A prosecutor called Bucklew "a homicidal Energizer bunny" because of his persistence in going after his victims, the Southeast Missourian reported.
In his lawsuit, Bucklew claims he has a vascular tumor that will cause extreme pain and suffering, violating his Eighth Amendment rights, if he is executed by lethal injection on May 21.
"The size of Mr. Bucklew's tumor and the weakness of his distended vessels create a very substantial risk that he will suffer excruciating, even tortuous pain during an execution," the complaint states.
"Because the vascular tumor partially obstructs Mr. Bucklew's airway, he is at high risk of choking during an execution, particularly if distended vessels in his mouth or throat rupture and bleed. This will cause gasping and coughing that Mr. Bucklew will experience as suffocation.
"There is also a grave risk that, because of Mr. Bucklew's severe vascular malformations, the lethal drug will not circulate as intended, delaying the suppression of the central nervous system and prolonging the execution - which will likely cause excruciating pain to Mr. Bucklew. These risks are heightened by the use of a compounded drug, pentobarbital, in the absence of any disclosure about the drug's safety, purity and potency. In fact, the Department of Corrections will not even confirm whether the drug is subject to any laboratory testing whatsoever."
Bucklew claims the state has no protocol for executing a prisoner with a complex medical condition such as his, and that a qualified physician should be in the chamber for the sole purpose of reviving him if the execution is not successful.
Lethal injection has become the topic of considerable debate since European producers of sodium thiopental withdrew the drug from the market. As a result, some states have turned to drug cocktails produced by domestic compounding pharmacies. They often keep the identity of these pharmacies anonymous, allegedly out of some concern about retaliation from anti-death penalty activists. These secrecy laws have been repeatedly challenged in court.
The lethal injection itself has drawn considerable attention after two highly publicized executions in Ohio and Oklahoma. In Ohio, Dennis McGuirre's execution lasted 26 minutes, during which he reportedly writhed in pain and gasped for air. Oklahoma executed Clayton Lockett two weeks ago with similar results. Lockett's execution was halted by the on-site doctor after he showed signs of distress, but he died of a heart attack 43 minutes after the procedure began. Following his death, the state agreed to a six-month stay of execution for the inmate who had been scheduled for killing the same night as Lockett so that an investigation can be completed. The NYTimes recently said the United States has "no business putting people to death by any means." It described the death penalty as "barbaric, racist," and it called states' secrecy as to the providers of lethal injection drugs "cowardly."
Missouri's lethal injection protocol is much like that of Oklahoma.
CRL&P related posts:
- "Missouri executes inmate after Supreme Court turns down stay request"
- Oklahoma court stays executions pending challenge to state's secrecy of source of execution drugs
- Judge blocks Missouri's access to execution drug
- Union requests changes to Texas's solitary confinement policy for death row inmates
- When victims' families defend defendants against capital punishment