KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Attorneys for two Missouri death row inmates who claim their medical conditions would make lethal injection too painful have suggested the gas chamber as an alternative way to carry out their death sentences.
The attorneys for Russell Bucklew and Ernest L. Johnson are required by previous court rulings to offer an alternative method of execution as they argue that chemicals used in lethal injections would cause an unconstitutional risk of cruel and unusual punishment.
Bucklew, who is on death row for the 1996 killing of a man in southeast Missouri, had his death sentence stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2014. Johnson, sentenced to death for killing three people in 1994 in Columbia, had his execution stayed last month.
The two men's attorneys suggested the gas chamber as an alternative execution method even though the state doesn't have a working gas chamber, The Kansas City Star reported (http://bit.ly/1QdcBf2 ). Bucklew's attorneys also suggested death by firing squad as a possible second alternative, according to court documents, although state law does not authorize that means of execution.
Bucklew suffers from a congenital condition that causes clumps of malformed blood vessels to grow in the head, neck and face. Johnson has a slow-growing type of brain tumor. Part of it was removed, but the remaining portion and scar tissue has created a defect in his brain, according to court documents.
The state has argued Bucklew's case should be dismissed, saying the proposed alternative must be "feasible and readily available" and that would not apply to Bucklew because the state doesn't have a working gas chamber. Inmates must also show that the alternative would "significantly reduce" the risk of severe pain and Bucklew has not shown that the gas chamber would be any less painful, the state argued.
"The allegation that execution by poison gas would significantly reduce a risk of choking, coughing and gasping for air that allegedly exists in an execution by lethal injection with a fast-acting barbiturate defies common sense," the state argued.
Bucklew's attorneys said in court filings last week that the use of gas is known, feasible and available and even suggested the use of an inert gas to induce hypoxia.
"Death by hypoxia is not caused by any lethal chemical entering into the bloodstream, rather death results from depriving the brain of oxygen," Bucklew's lawyers said.
Missouri's gas chamber has not been used for 50 years, and the state has used lethal injection to carry out all executions since 1989. Bucklew's attorneys said that because his execution is not imminent, Missouri would have "plenty of time" to repair the chamber.
In Johnson's case, his attorneys and the state's attorneys are still filing motions and responses. Oral arguments are scheduled for mid-January.
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com