U.S. Supreme Court halts Missouri execution of Russell Bucklew at last minute

Russell Bucklew
Russell Bucklew Jeremy Weis Photography

The Supreme Court, through a last minute 5-4 vote, halted the planned execution of Russell Bucklew in Missouri on Tuesday.

Bucklew, 49, was scheduled to die at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. But a Supreme Court order came down on Tuesday evening, granting a temporary stay of his execution until justices can review his case.

Bucklew, who suffers from a rare disorder, has argued that lethal injection would cause him to suffer an unconstitutionally gruesome death.

It's the second time Bucklew escaped lethal injection. In 2014, the Supreme Court intervened just prior to his execution.

Cheryl Pilate, a Kansas City attorney who has represented Bucklew, said justices would not have an opportunity to consider his arguments before his death warrant expires.

"We are thrilled and relieved and look forward to continuing to work with Rusty," Pilate told The Star on Tuesday evening.

Tuesday's Supreme Court decision was a narrow one; Chief Justice John Roberts — along with Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch — would have allowed Bucklew's execution to proceed.

Bucklew in 1996 attacked his girlfriend, Stephanie Ray, when she ended their relationship, and later shot her new boyfriend, Michael Sanders, to death in southeast Missouri.

Bucklew suffers from a rare disease known as cavernous hemangioma, which causes blood-filled tumors in his head, neck and throat.

His attorneys have argued that lethal injection would cause "excruciating pain of prolonged suffocation resulting from the complete obstruction of his airway."

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley's Office has countered that Bucklew cannot prove his claims.

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