U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTUS to hear inmate's claim that rare medical condition would make execution particularly painful

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider the case of a Missouri inmate who contends a rare medical condition would make being put to death by lethal injection “gruesome and painful” beyond the pain inherent in an execution.

The court granted cert in the case of Russell Bucklew, who has a disease called cavernous hemangioma that causes blood-filled tumors around his head, neck and throat. The tumors are likely to rupture during the execution, blocking Bucklew’s airway and filling his mouth with blood, according to the cert petition. Bucklew also says his veins are compromised, making it difficult to administer the execution drugs.

Bucklew has proposed death by nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative to lethal injection.

Bucklew was convicted for a 1996 slaying of a man who was seeing Bucklew’s former girlfriend that ended in a shootout with police that left one trooper wounded. Prosecutors said Bucklew also fired at the shooting victim’s son, and raped and abducted his former girlfriend during the crime spree.

The St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the execution was not cruel and unusual on the ground that Bucklew had failed to prove his alternative method would substantially reduce his risk of needless suffering.

Bucklew is asking the court to decide several evidence-related questions in his Eighth Amendment challenge. The Supreme Court also asked the parties to consider whether Bucklew met his burden to prove what procedures would be used for his alternative execution method, the severity of the likely pain under the alternative, and how it would compare to the state’s method of execution.

The SCOTUSblog case page is here. Publications covering the cert grant include SCOTUSblog, Mother Jones, the Washington Post and the New York Times.

The case is Bucklew v. Precythe.

Related articles:

ABAJournal.com: “Inmate who claims his medical problem will result in a painful execution wins SCOTUS stay”

ABAJournal.com: “Inmate who wants execution videotaped wins stay from Alito”

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