Calls to spare US death-row murderer with rare illness

Death row inmate Russell Bucklew is shown in this Missouri Department of Corrections photo taken on February 9, 2014. (Reuters pic)

WASHINGTON: Lawyers and advocates for a convicted US murderer-rapist scheduled to be executed Tuesday in the state of Missouri, have warned the punishment could subject him to intense suffering because of his rare illness.

Russell Bucklew has an uncommon vascular condition that leaves him with growths on his head and neck. This creates significant risk that subjecting him to lethal injection will result in torture, rights activists argue.

Defense lawyer Cheryl Pilate said his malformed veins could lead to an “execution atrocity” and there is “grave risk” of his meeting an excruciating end.

A tormented and painful death would violate the United States Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.

Bucklew, 49, has been on death row for two decades for the 1996 killing of a love rival and raping a former girlfriend.

He escaped from prison shortly after his arrest by hiding in a trash can. During his two days of freedom, he attacked with a hammer the mother of his ex-girlfriend. She survived.

Bucklew was to be executed in 2014 but received a last-minute stay from the United States Supreme Court, after a botched lethal injection in Oklahoma stirred fresh debate about capital punishment.

The American Civil Liberties Union said there is “substantial risk” that Bucklew will choke during a lethal injection because his airway is compromised by a vascular tumor.

This would cause him to suffocate and undergo excruciating pain, the group said. It also warned that the tumor could burst, causing heavy bleeding and leading to “torturous” punishment.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called for Bucklew’s death sentence to be commuted.