Man set to be executed tonight could suffer ‘gruesome’ death because of his rare disease, activists say

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri’s governor has refused to stop what activists say would be “one of the most gruesome” executions in US history.

Russell Bucklew, 51, is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. (7 p.m. ET) Tuesday. He was convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and first-degree burglary in 1997.

Gov. Mike Parson turned down a clemency request, said his press office, without providing additional detail.

Bucklew suffers from a rare blood vessel disorder called cavernous hemangioma. The disease can cause tumors in the head and regular bleeding from the mouth, nose, eyes and ears.

An execution by lethal injection could cause prolonged suffocation and excruciating pain, Bucklew’s attorneys have said. Bucklew argued the state should consider death by lethal gas as an alternative.

In April, the Supreme Court ruled against Bucklew in a 5-4 decision, which means plans for the lethal injection can proceed.

Justice Neil Gorsuch said the Eighth Amendment “does not demand the avoidance of all risk of pain” in carrying out executions.

He also said Bucklew had failed to “present any evidence” that the substitution of lethal gas would “significantly reduce his risk of pain,” Gorsuch said.

But the American Civil Liberties Union said executing Bucklew would violate the Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

“What makes (Bucklew’s) execution different is that he has a medical condition that would make it one of the most gruesome in U.S. history,” the ACLU wrote.

It said Bucklew’s tumors “will likely rupture during the lethal injection process, causing him to hemorrhage, choke, and suffocate in his own blood.”

Bucklew has successfully staved off his execution in the past.

In 2014, the Supreme Court granted Bucklew a stay of execution, pending appeals.

Dr. Joel Zivot had filed an affidavit in the case saying that Bucklew’s airway is so “severely compromised and obstructed,” especially when he’s lying flat, that it could easily be ruptured, raising the risk that Bucklew could choke or suffocate.

“If you touch it, it bleeds,” Zivot wrote of Bucklew’s airway.

But Gorsuch, the current Supreme Court judge who wrote the majority opinion against Bucklew’s case this year, said justice must be served for Bucklew’s victims.

“The people of Missouri, the surviving victims of Mr. Bucklew’s crimes, and others like them deserve better,” Gorsuch wrote.

Bucklew was convicted of fatally shooting his ex-girlfriend’s presumed new boyfriend, Michael Sanders, and firing at Sanders’ son before kidnapping Stephanie Ray Pruitt.

After raping his ex-girlfriend, court documents state, Bucklew was involved in a gunfight in which he and a Missouri state trooper were injured.

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