The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case involving a Missouri man on death row with a rare disease who is challenging the state's method of execution.
The justices stayed the execution of Russell Bucklew, 49, last month pending the court’s decision to consider the case and said Monday they would hear Bucklew’s appeal.
Bucklew was scheduled to die by lethal injection on March 20. But his lawyers argue that his rare medical condition would cause him to experience “the excruciating pain of prolonged suffocation” while undergoing Missouri’s lethal injection protocol in violation of the 8th Amendment.
According to a filing with the Supreme Court, Bucklew’s disease, cavernous hemangioma, has caused blood-filled tumors to grow in his head, neck and throat, which can rupture and bleed.
Bucklew’s lawyers say the tumor in his throat often blocks his airway.
If he does receive Missouri’s lethal injection method, Bucklew will likely struggle to breath through the procedure, causing his throat tumor to rupture, his lawyers say.
According to court filings, his mouth and airway will subsequently fill with blood, causing him to “choke and cough on his own blood” through the process.
“Bucklew’s execution will very likely be gruesome and painful far beyond the pain inherent in the process of an ordinary lethal injection execution,” his lawyers wrote in its filing with the court.
Bucklew has proposed death by lethal gas.
A three-judge panel on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the execution by lethal injection was not considered cruel and unusual because Bucklew did not show an alternative method would reduce his risk of needless suffering.
Bucklew was convicted in 1998 of first-degree murder, kidnapping, burglary, forcible rape and armed criminal action.