Convicted rapist and murderer Russell Bucklew had been scheduled
to be put to death early on Wednesday before a series of court
decisions delayed the execution.
Although the high court on Wednesday lifted an earlier stay that
Justice Samuel Alito had granted on Tuesday night, it issued a new
one that will remain in effect until Bucklew's new appeal is heard
by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The legal issue at hand is whether lethal injection would constitute
cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution because of Bucklew's health condition, called cavernous
Bucklew's lawyers say that malformed blood vessels in his head and
neck could rupture under stress, causing the drugs administered
during execution to circulate improperly and cause undue suffering.
"Significantly, the unique risks posed by the hemangioma create a
substantial likelihood during lethal injection - with any drug - of
hemorrhaging, choking, airway obstruction and suffocation," Bucklew
lawyer Cheryl Pilate said in court papers.
Pilate said in a statement she was "extremely pleased and relieved"
that the latest stay application was granted.
It is rare for the Supreme Court to issue such a stay, and the move
comes just weeks after a botched execution in Oklahoma brought fresh
scrutiny of the death penalty in the United States.
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The Oklahoma inmate, Clayton Lockett, writhed in pain when a needle
became dislodged from his vein during an attempted lethal injection
on April 29. The execution was halted but Lockett died of a heart
Bucklew was convicted of the 1996 murder of Michael Sanders in
southeastern Missouri, and the kidnapping and rape of Stephanie Ray,
an ex-girlfriend who had been seeing Sanders.
At the same time the high court issued the new stay on Wednesday
evening, it lifted the stay Alito had agreed to impose on Tuesday
night. That was on a separate legal issue concerning Bucklew's
unsuccessful attempt to seek clemency.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien and Lawrence Hurley; Editing by
Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman)
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