The Supreme Court announced Monday it will hear a challenge involving a Missouri death row inmate who is challenging his execution by lethal injection, and instead suggested to die by gas.
The inmate, Russell Bucklew, says he has a medical condition that could lead to hemorrhaging and the possibility he could choke on his own blood during the execution if he’s subjected to lethal injection. He said that would violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
The high court has never granted an exception to the death penalty for an inmate with a physical ailment, but this case could give the justices an opportunity to do so.
His challenge will be heard during the court’s next sitting, which begins in October.
Bucklew suffers from cavernous hemangioma, which causes weak, damaged blood vessels. He contends if he’s administered pentobarbital, the drug Missouri uses when executing inmates by lethal injection, it would not circulate through his blood properly. As a result, he said he would hemorrhage, choke on his own blood and suffocate.
He argued death through nitrogen gas would reduce his suffering, but the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Bucklew’s appeal in a 2-1 ruling.
“Like the district court, we conclude the summary judgment record contains no basis to conclude that Bucklew’s risk of severe pain would be substantially reduced by use of nitrogen hypoxia instead of lethal injection as a method of execution,” the 8th Circuit ruled earlier this year.
The Supreme Court granted a stay of his execution last month.
Missouri hasn’t administered nitrogen gas in an execution since 1965. The state argued Bucklew could be placed in a different position on the gurney during lethal injection, which would alleviate the concern about his circulation.
Bucklew was convicted of murder, kidnapping and rape.
He stole a car in 2006 and followed his ex-girlfriend to a house where she was living. He fatally shot the homeowner, then kidnapped his ex-girlfriend and raped her in the vehicle. He was later apprehended by the state highway patrol.
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