U.S. Supreme Court Refuses to Halt Execution of Man with Rare Condition


The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to halt the execution by lethal injection of a convicted murderer who claims a rare medical condition would cause him to suffer "severe pain."

By a 5-4 vote, the nation's highest court declined to delay the planned execution in the state of Missouri of Russell Bucklew, 50.

Bucklew is on death row for the 1996 kidnapping and rape of his former girlfriend and the murder of a man who had given refuge to the woman.

In his appeal to the Supreme Court, Bucklew was not contesting the validity of his death sentence but the manner of his planned execution.

Bucklew suffers from a medical condition known as congenital cavernous hemangioma that causes tumors of malformed blood vessels to grow on his head, face, and neck.

His lawyers claimed that lethal injection could cause him to suffocate on his own blood and would violate the US Constitution's Eighth Amendment prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishment."

The five conservative justices on the court ruled that it would not.

"The Eighth Amendment does not guarantee a prisoner a painless death -- something that, of course, isn't guaranteed to many people, including most victims of capital crimes," said Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority.

Bucklew had proposed the use of nitrogen gas to carry out the execution instead of the single drug pentobarbital, but Gorsuch said he had failed to prove this would ease his suffering.

"Even if execution by nitrogen hypoxia were a feasible and readily implemented alternative to the state's chosen method, Mr. Bucklew has still failed to present any evidence suggesting that it would significantly reduce his risk of pain," he wrote.

Justice Stephen Breyer and the other three liberal members of the court disagreed. 

"Bucklew cites evidence that executing him by lethal injection will cause the tumors that grow in his throat to rupture during his execution, causing him to sputter, choke, and suffocate on his own blood for up to several minutes before he dies," Breyer said.

"Executing Bucklew by lethal injection risks subjecting him to constitutionally impermissible suffering," he said.

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