05/09/2014 06:57 pm ET Updated Jul 10, 2014

Could Rare Health Problem Stop Inmate Russell Bucklew's Execution?


By Kevin Murphy

KANSAS CITY, Mo., May 9 (Reuters) - A Missouri death row inmate wants to halt his execution because of a rare health condition his lawyers say would likely result in exceptional pain and possible suffocation.

Russell Bucklew, 45, is scheduled to die by lethal injection on May 21 for the 1996 murder of Michael Sanders in southeast Missouri. But lawyers for Bucklew filed a lawsuit in federal court in Kansas City on Friday stating that he has a congenital condition called cavernous hemangioma that causes malformed vessels in his head and neck to grow and rupture under stress.

Lethal drugs injected into his body would likely circulate improperly, the lawsuit says, citing medical evaluations.

"This will create a great risk of prolonging the execution and causing Mr. Bucklew to suffer excruciating pain," the lawsuit said. Bucklew's condition also shrinks his airways, putting him at risk of suffocation, the lawsuit said.

The death penalty has come under fresh national scrutiny since 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.

Death by lethal injection would be cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution, Bucklew's lawsuit states. A spokesmen for the Missouri Department of Corrections had no comment.

Bucklew's case rests "not on the inherent dangers" of Missouri's protocol of lethal drugs but on the "specific and unique facts" of his medical condition, the lawyers state in the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, in Texas on Friday a federal judge declined to block the scheduled execution on Tuesday of Robert James Campbell, 41, convicted in the kidnap, rape and murder of a bank teller in Houston in 1991.

Campbell's lawyers say his execution is set to be conducted under the same "shroud of secrecy" that they claim contributed to the bungled execution of Lockett. (Reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Mo, and Jim Forsyth in San Antonio, Texas; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Grant McCool)



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