TROY, Mo. -- Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said Monday that he doesn’t see any reason to halt the execution of an inmate whose attorneys claim he could suffer during the lethal injection because of a rare medical condition.
Russell Bucklew, who was convicted of killing a southeast Missouri man during a crime spree in 1996, is scheduled to be the first person put to death in the U.S. since a botched execution in Oklahoma last month. His injection is set for 12:01 a.m. CDT Wednesday.
"This guy committed very, very heinous crimes and while it’s a difficult and challenging part of this job, we’ll continue to move forward unless a court says otherwise," Nixon told The Associated Press in an interview.
Bucklew, 46, has a congenital condition known as cavernous hemangioma that causes weakened and malformed blood vessels, as well as tumors in his nose and throat. His attorneys, in several court filings and interviews, have said he could experience a great amount of suffering during the execution process, and Bucklew told the AP in a phone interview last week that he is scared of what might happen.
None of the six inmates executed since Missouri switched to pentobarbital last year have shown outward signs of pain or suffering. But when Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett’s execution went awry on April 29, it prompted renewed concern over lethal injection.
Lockett’s vein collapsed and he died of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after the start of the punishment. Oklahoma put on hold a second execution scheduled for the same night as Lockett’s death, while the state investigates what happened.
Many states, including Oklahoma and Missouri, have changed drugs they administer and refuse to disclose the source of the execution drugs. Death penalty opponents say the secrecy makes it impossible to ensure a drug couldn’t cause an inmate to suffer cruel and unusual punishment.
Bucklew’s attorneys have filed several appeals asking courts to halt the Missouri inmate’s execution over concerns about how the state gets its execution drug, and citing Bucklew’s medical condition.
On Monday, the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Missouri, denied an appeal that cited concerns over what effect the state’s execution drug could have on the inmate. Lindsay Runnels, an attorney for Bucklew, said she will appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
A federal court is also considering a request to allow Bucklew’s lawyers to record the execution on video.
In an interview with the AP last Friday, Bucklew said his condition is so bad that he’s on constant pain medication. Attorney Cheryl Pilate has said he also suffers from impaired circulation, which she said increases the risk that the execution drug may not work the way it is supposed to.
Missouri has not indicated that it will be slowing down on executions in wake of the botched Oklahoma one. The Missouri Supreme Court on May 9 set a June 18 execution date for another inmate, John Winfield.
Gov. Nixon, a Democrat who’s a former four-term attorney general and a staunch supporter of the death penalty, said the Missouri Department of Corrections works "very hard to make sure this challenging responsibility is handled as humanely as possible."
The AP and four other news organizations filed suit Thursday against the Missouri Department of Corrections, claiming the state’s refusal to provide information on the execution drug violates the public’s constitutional right to have access to information about the punishment.
Former Cape Girardeau County prosecutor Morley Swingle, who called Bucklew "the most evil person I’ve ever prosecuted" during an interview last week, said the man’s crime spree began in March 1996 after his girlfriend left him.
Swingle said Bucklew was angry and threatened Stephanie Pruitt, prompting her and her two daughters to move in with Michael Sanders and his two sons in Cape Girardeau.
Bucklew stole a car, guns and a knife from his police officer brother in Jefferson City and was able to track down Pruitt at Sanders’ home on March 21, 1996. He shot and killed Sanders in front of Pruitt and the children.
He handcuffed Pruitt, beat her with a pistol and drove to a secluded area, where he raped her. Later, after a state trooper spotted the car, Bucklew shot at the trooper but missed. Bucklew was grazed in the head and hospitalized.
He later escaped from jail, hid in the home of Pruitt’s mother and beat her with a hammer. She escaped and Bucklew was arrested a short time later.
Pruitt later married and was killed by her husband in a murder-suicide in 2009.