COLUMBIA, Mo. – Nearly two dozen former corrections officers from across the country have filed a court brief in support of a Missouri death row inmate's claim that his medical condition could cause an unconstitutionally cruel execution.
Russell Bucklew was sentenced to death in 1997 for killing a southeast Missouri man. Bucklew, 47, has been scheduled for execution twice in the last four years but was granted a stay each time. Bucklew has a rare condition called cavernous hemangioma, which causes blood-filled tumors in his neck and head.
His case is before the Missouri Supreme Court. It's unclear when the court will rule.
Bucklew's attorney, Robert N. Hochman, said in court documents that lethal injection "will not go smoothly."
But Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, in a separate filing, wrote that the growth in Bucklew's mouth had shrunk. Hawley disagreed that the condition presents a risk of suffering under lethal injection.
The Columbia Tribune reports that several briefs were filed on Bucklew's behalf, including one from 23 former corrections officers who turned death penalty opponents. They argue that such a high-risk execution places an unfair burden on corrections workers involved in the execution process.
Some of the corrections officers have witnessed or overseen multiple executions and some have served as executioners themselves.
"It's incredibly traumatic even in the best of circumstances for corrections officers to participate in executions," said Tejinder Singh, the attorney who filed the brief on behalf of the corrections officers. He said the burden is significantly worse when a medical condition comes into play.
"But when, as is here, there is a real risk the execution will be botched because of the inmate's unique medical condition leading to complication, the risk becomes truly intolerable. It becomes extreme and there is no good reason to force public servants into a position of carrying out those executions," Singh said.
Bucklew was convicted of killing Michael Sanders, 27, at his Cape Girardeau County home in front of his children, and kidnapping and raping his ex-girlfriend. A Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper found Bucklew in St. Louis County and Bucklew shot the trooper in a gunfight. The trooper survived.
Bucklew later escaped jail and attacked his ex-girlfriend's mother before being arrested again.
Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, http://www.columbiatribune.com