Lawyers want clemency for Missouri inmate to avoid ‘especially gruesome’ execution

A Missouri man convicted in a 1996 slaying rests his final hope with Gov. Mike Parson to avoid what his lawyers say could be an “especially gruesome” execution on Tuesday.

Russell Bucklew is scheduled to receive an injection of lethal drugs at the Potosi Correctional Center at 6 p.m. Tuesday unless Parson intervenes and grants clemency for the condemned prisoner. Bucklew has twice come close to execution but his killing was halted by the U.S. Supreme Court to further review his case.

He has now exhausted his appeals with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bucklew suffers from a rare condition known as cavernous hemangioma that results in clusters of malformed blood vessels and tumors that grow on his face, neck and throat. Bucklew’s attorneys say his condition could lead to a cruel punishment and a “gruesome spectacle” for execution witnesses as he may choke on and spit up blood during the procedure.

Bucklew made similar arguments before the Supreme Court, a slim 5-4 majority of which found his pleas unpersuasive.

Parson’s office said the governor reviews all death penalty cases and “takes seriously both his duty and responsibility to see that lawfully entered capital sentences are carried out in accordance with state law.”

“Governor Parson has consistently supported capital punishment when merited by the circumstances and all other legal remedies have been exhausted and when due process has been satisfied,” Parson press secretary Kelli Jones said in a written statement.

Bucklew on March 21, 1996, murdered Michael Sanders in southeast Missouri. Prior to killing Sanders, Bucklew violently assaulted Stephanie Ray when she told him she wanted to end their relationship.

Ray retreated with her children to Sanders’ house. Bucklew broke into Sanders house, shot Sanders in the chest, shot at and missed Sanders’ 6-year-old son and kidnapped Ray and later raped her at gunpoint.

Bucklew doesn’t contest committing the crime.

“Russell committed a terrible crime and for that he remains incredibly remorseful for his conduct and the pain and suffering he caused the Sanders and Ray families,” his petition for clemency reads.

Bucklew’s petition says his trial attorneys failed to investigate his background and present it to the Missouri jury that sentenced him to death. Bucklew’s lawyers argue that an incomplete accounting of his upbringing led the jury to hear of a “sunny and superficial narrative of life in the Bucklew home” as opposed to problems in the family growing up that may have mitigated the jury’s view of the defendant.

They add that Bucklew has no record of serious infractions in the 22 years he’s been imprisoned at the Potosi Correctional Center.

Several groups have pleaded with Parson to offer clemency to Bucklew, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Its president, Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitino, said U.S. courts had “failed to provide him with effective access to judicial protection regarding his right to be free from cruel and inhuman punishment.”

Related stories from Kansas City Star

Steve Vockrodt is an award-winning investigative journalist who has reported in Kansas City since 2005. Areas of reporting interest include business, politics, justice issues and breaking news investigations. Vockrodt grew up in Denver and studied journalism at the University of Kansas.