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Missouri Death Row Inmate With Brain Tumors Executed Despite Concerns About Suffering

Russell Bucklew's attorney, Cheryl Pilate, said the execution of her client was "horrible," and did not constitute justice.

By Dorian Geiger
Last Meal Requests From Infamous Death Row Inmates

A convicted killer and death row inmate with a rare medical condition, whose death sentence had raised concerns that he may suffer unreasonably during execution, was put to death on Monday.  

Russell Bucklew, who murdered his ex-girlfriend’s new lover in a jealous rage in 1996, is the first prisoner to be executed in Missouri since January 2017, according to the Associated Press. He was pronounced dead at the Bonne Terre state prison shortly after 6 p.m. on Oct. 1.

Bucklew was executed by lethal injection, the New York Times reported. At the moment of death, he drew in a deep breath and ceased to move, according to the Times.

“We were extremely disappointed,” Bucklew’s attorney, Cheryl Pilate, told Oxygen.com. “It’s horrible. The execution of Mr. Bucklew did not constitute justice. It did not deliver justice. It did not accomplish anything.”

“He was certainly worthy of mercy,” she added.

Russell Bucklew Ap

Bucklew, 49, suffered from a rare medical condition called cavernous hemangioma, which causes blood-filled tumors in the brain, as well as irregular blood vessels and other vein problems, according to the Associated Press. He required a tracheostomy tube to breathe. Lethal injection, his attorneys previously argued, could have caused those tumors to burst and inflicted a horrific amount of suffering in Bucklew’s final moments.

“It really raises the risk of what could be a fairly grotesque execution process,” said Jeremy Weis, another attorney for Bucklew, according to the Associated Press.

Bucklew’s legal team had also insisted his condition was rapidly deteriorating and his cluster of tumors was growing. He reportedly also had tumors in his throat and one on his lip that had grown larger than a marble. 

But, state prosecutors disagreed, arguing that that Bucklew’s tumor had actually shrunk 10 percent between 2010 and 2016. 

Bucklew had previously requested on appeal to be killed using poison gas. However, Missouri hasn’t executed anyone using gas since the 1960s and supposedly doesn’t even have a gas chamber anymore, according to the Associated Press.

Following Bucklew’s death, however, some human rights groups have continued to condemn his execution. The American Civil Liberties Union, which previously warned a lethal injection could result in “torturous pain,” called Bucklew’s execution a reckless “stain on our democracy” in a release after the execution.

“We were disappointed the state of Missouri went forward with an execution that carries such a high risk of inflicting excruciating pain,” Cassandra Stubbs, director of the Capital Punishment Project at the ACLU, told Oxygen.com.

Stubbs described Bucklew’s execution as “unjustified and demeaning.”

“We don’t know exactly what Mr. Bucklew experienced, as far as his execution, but we know that Missouri was willing to take a gamble with an incredible infliction of pain,” she added.

Bucklew’s death sentence had been delayed several times in the past, including once in 2014, when his execution was halted an hour before being carried out, the Associated Press reported. In 2018, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of allowing his execution to go ahead, according to NBC News.

The Supreme Court ruled that Missouri could legally execute Bucklew by lethal injection, pointing to the 8th Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, which they stated "does not guarantee a painless death."

Twenty inmates have supposedly been executed using the lethal injection formula that was used on Bucklew. None of them showed signs of distress or suffering, according to the Associated Press.

In 1996, Bucklew fatally shot Michael Sanders, the new boyfriend of ex-girlfriend Stephanie Ray, in a Missouri trailer park, then reportedly pistol-whipped Ray, put her in handcuffs and raped her. Bucklew also supposedly tried to shoot the man’s 6-year-old son in the incident, as well. He was also accused of cutting Ray's face with a knife and threatening to killer her weeks before the murder. He later somehow broke out of jail and attacked his former girlfriend’s mother with a hammer before being recaptured. He was convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and first-degree burglary in 1997, CNN reported.

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