Missouri executed its first prisoner since 2017 on Tuesday night. Despite the man’s rare medical condition, no complications were reported.
Russell Bucklew had been on death row since 1997 for killing a man in Cape Girardeau County. His lawyers and activists had argued for clemency more than once, saying Bucklew’s cavernous hemangioma could cause him to choke on his own blood during the lethal injection of the drug pentobarbital.
Roughly 70,000 people signed a petition asking Gov. Mike Parson to stop the execution. But Parson declined to grant clemency Tuesday morning.
It was Bucklew’s last hope after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in April that the lethal injection method wasn’t “cruel and unusual” punishment.
In an interview before the execution, Bucklew's lawyer Jeremy Weis said the governor’s decision was a disappointment.
“I believe very strongly that Rusty was and is worthy of Governor Parson’s mercy,” Weis said. “I think he’s demonstrated that over the past 23 years that he’s remorseful for his terrible actions in March of 1996.”
In March 1996, Bucklew entered a trailer where Michael Sanders lived with Bucklew’s ex-girlfriend, Stephanie Ray. Bucklew shot Sanders, tried to shoot a fleeing child and then abducted and raped Ray. He later wounded a state trooper in a shootout before he was captured.
Since 2000, Missouri has executed 47 people. Currently, 22 people in the Missouri prison system have death sentences, according to Department of Corrections spokeswoman Karen Pojmann, but no other executions have been scheduled.
Aviva Okeson-Haberman is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter: @avivaokeson.