crimesider

Missouri death row inmate's hopes rest with courts

Russell Bucklew AP Photo/Missouri Department of Corrections

ST. LOUIS - Attorneys for a condemned U.S. inmate remain hopeful that a court will halt his execution as it considers an appeal raising concerns about the state of Missouri's secretive process of purchasing the execution drug.

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

His attorneys, Lindsay Runnels and Cheryl Pilate, have appealed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals, citing 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.

None of the six inmates executed since Missouri switched to pentobarbital last year have shown outward signs of pain or suffering. But the botched execution last month of an Oklahoma inmate, Clayton Lockett, prompted renewed concern over lethal injection.

Lockett's vein collapsed and he died of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after the start of the punishment. 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, causing states, including Missouri, to turn to U.S. sources, including compounding pharmacies. The states refuse to identify the sources of their execution drugs, saying the secrecy is necessary to protect the sources from possible retaliation by death penalty opponents.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat and proponent of the death penalty, told The Associated Press on Monday that he was still considering a clemency request from Bucklew, but hadn't seen a reason to intervene.

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 AP by phone last week that he is scared of what might happen.

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.

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 home of another man, Michael Sanders, who had two sons. Bucklew tracked Pruitt down at Sanders' home on March 21, 1996, and killed Sanders in front of her 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.

  • Crimesider Staff

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