Hours before Missouri’s 75th execution, the relentless efforts of condemned killer Russell Bucklew and his attorneys paid off. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a stay by the federal courts in one of the state’s most watched executions.
Bucklew was scheduled to be the first execution in the country since the recent botched performance in Oklahoma. Missouri is having the same problem as Oklahoma and other death penalty states—getting safe drugs for lethal injections and finding trained people to carry out the procedure.
Nearly a month ago, Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner were looking death in the face in the Okie state; it was to be Oklahoma’s first double execution in 80 years. Mary Fallin expected her double-headliner death show would spotlight her as the rootin’, tootin’ governor she thinks she is.
It took Lockett 43 grueling, pain-filled minutes before the execution was stopped by prison officials. He was declared dead but that’s as much as the public has been able to find out. Warner’s execution was summarily cancelled. The whole world has been talking about U.S. lethal injection protocols ever since.
Missouri has a history of screwed up executions. It once employed a dyslexic doctor with a history of malpractice suits to carry out its executions. Once discovered, the courts put a moratorium on executions for two years until a new protocol was developed. The state then moved swiftly to criminalize making the identities of the death team public.
Professional medical organizations have put the squeeze on their members’ participation in killing citizens. Add to this the scarcity of lethal injection drugs by legitimate companies who opposed the use of their drugs in executions. Missouri tried to use propofol, an anesthetic that had never been used in lethal injections before; it was quashed by anesthesiologists. Frustrated by the dwindling execution options, a frustrated state legislator even called for the return of the firing squad.
The state has resorted to using drugs of unknown compositions cooked up by compounding pharmacies with questionable credentials. This is a problem that has received growing scrutiny—and litigation. The Guardian, Associated Press and three Missouri newspapers have filed a suit that alleges that the corrections department is in violation of the Missouri Sunshine Law by denying media requests for information about the “composition, concentration, source and quality of drugs used to execute inmates in Missouri.” There has yet to be a ruling on this issue of transparency.
The crime that landed Bucklew on death row draws little public sympathy. It was heinous and senseless. He accepted his fate and has never claimed to be innocent of the charges. However, Bucklew rightfully demands that he has a right to know what drugs will be used to kill him especially in light of his peculiar medical problem.
Bucklew suffers from a rare congenital disorder called cavernous hemangioma that causes bleeding tumors in his head and neck to grow and rupture under stress. Being injected with some unknown drug was a catastrophe waiting to happen. Some observers predicted the Oklahoma debacle would pale compared to what could go wrong in Bucklew’s execution.
One of several motions filed by Bucklew’s attorney would compel the department of corrections to allow his execution to be videotaped had the state move forward. Attorney Cheryl Pilate challenged the state: “If Missouri officials are confident enough to execute Russell Bucklew, they should be confident enough to videotape it. It is time to raise the curtain on lethal injections.”
It’s difficult to say what Bucklew’s fate will be but with all eyes on Missouri, the curtain is up on lethal injection and a bright light is shining on its incompetence and inhumanity.