(Recasts with latest action by appeals court and Supreme Court)
By Kevin Murphy
KANSAS CITY, Mo. May 20 The U.S. Supreme Court
on Tuesday granted an 11th-hour reprieve to a Missouri death row
inmate said by his lawyers to have a rare health condition that
could lead to undue suffering from a lethal injection.
Convicted rapist and murderer Russell Bucklew, 46, initially
received a stay of execution in a 2-1 ruling by a three-judge
panel of the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, but the full
court overturned that decision.
Hours later, however, the Supreme Court renewed the stay
without comment pending further order in a notice signed by
Justice Samuel Alito.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said the high court
was expected to consider Bucklew's case on Wednesday, adding
that his death warrant remained valid until midnight Wednesday
Bucklew's lawyers argued that malformed blood vessels in his
head and neck could rupture under stress, causing the drugs
administered during execution to circulate improperly and cause
him undue suffering. The condition is called cavernous
Bucklew was convicted of the 1996 murder of Michael Sanders
in southeastern Missouri, and the kidnapping and rape of
Stephanie Ray, an ex-girlfriend who had been seeing Sanders.
Bucklew's execution, which had been slated for early
Wednesday, would have been the first since a botched execution
in Oklahoma that brought fresh scrutiny of the death penalty in
the United States.
An Oklahoma inmate, Clayton Lockett, writhed in pain when a
needle became dislodged from his vein during an attempted lethal
injection on April 29. The execution was halted but Lockett died
of a heart attack.
U.S. District Court Judge Beth Phillips had on Monday denied
the stay and a request to have his execution videotaped, ruling
there was insufficient evidence to suggest Bucklew would suffer
severe and needless pain.
But the three-judge appellate panel disagreed.
"Bucklew's unrebutted medical evidence demonstrates the
requisite sufficient likelihood of unnecessary pain and
suffering beyond the constitutionally permissible amount
inherent in all executions," the panel wrote.
Koster then asked the full appeals court to reconsider the
decision, and it did, vacating the stay, only to be reversed by
the Supreme Court.
Missouri's corrections department said in court papers that
Bucklew's condition dates back many years and he did not have to
wait until days before his execution to raise the issue.
He has undergone surgery while under anesthesia, and there
is no reason to believe anesthesia would be ineffective prior to
administering the lethal drugs, the department said.
The department also has opposed the videotaping of the
execution, saying that allowing it "could lead us back to the
days of executions as public spectacles."
(Reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Brendan O'Brien in
Milwaukee; Editing by David Bailey, Eric Walsh, Bernard Orr, Ken
Wills and Lisa Shumaker)