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Missouri execution with controversial drug halted in last-minute decision

Published time: May 21, 2014 10:21

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

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A US inmate had a narrow escape from death via lethal injection, as his execution was suspended hours before its scheduled time. Attorneys claim their defendant’s rare birth defect would make his execution excruciatingly painful.

The order to halt the execution of Russel Bucklew, 46, was issued by US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito late on Tuesday after a series of court flip flops. Earlier in the day Bucklew was first granted a stay of execution by a three-judge panel of 8th Circuit court and in a few hours the full 8th Circuit court ruled that the execution could still proceed.

Alito did not explain why he issued the order to suspend the execution, but according to Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, cited by AP, it could be because the full Supreme Court was to consider Bucklew’s case on Wednesday.

If the high court rules in favor of the execution, it could still be carried out on Wednesday, as scheduled, as according to Missouri law, the state has 24 hours to carry out the death warrant.

Bucklew’s attorneys as well as civil rights groups were appealing to have the procedure delayed. Lawyers representing the 46 year old inmate say he suffers from a rare medical condition that causes weakened and malformed blood vessels, as well as tumors in his nose and throat. The concern is that Bucklew will end up experiencing prolonged suffering during the killing.

There are fears Bucklew’s execution could turn out similar to the botched one in Oklahoma one month ago, when Clayton D. Lockett, 38, died of a heart attack after enduring pain for 43 minutes. An average execution takes just minutes to complete.

In January, Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire, 53, reportedly took 25 minutes to die. The execution was then described as one of the longest in the history of the state.

Executions started to go wrong, after European firms stopped supplies of drugs which could be used for lethal injections to US, boycotting the practice of capital punishment. The lethal substances are now being provided by compounded pharmacies and that is a problem, according to Cassandra Stubbs, director of the Capital Punishment Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Compound pharmacies are not regulated in the same way that traditional manufacturers are,” Stubbs told RT. “And there’s been big contamination problem with the drugs that come out of these compound pharmacies. But because of their secrecy, we don’t know where the drugs are coming from, we don’t know how they are being made and that means we could see the kinds of botched executions that we’ve seen in the past.”

Missouri authorities say they plan to use compounded pentobarbital for Bucklew’s execution. It is the same drug that proved problematic during previous killings.

Bucklew wanted his execution to be videotaped in case anything goes wrong. That request was denied by a US federal judge.

Capital punishment in America is legal in 32 states. Lethal injection is the most popular method. Second place goes to the electric chair. But even gas chambers, the gallows and firing squads are still lawful in some states. And according to research by the US National Academy of Science, one in 25 defendants handed the death sentence is likely to be innocent.