Death-Row Inmate With Rare Disease Gets U.S. High Court Review

(Bloomberg) -- The Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal from a Missouri death-row inmate who says his rare medical condition means the state’s lethal-injection method probably would cause him to choke on his own blood.

Convicted murderer Russell Bucklew, 49, says Missouri’s execution protocol method would be unconstitutional in his case because he suffers from cavernous hemangioma, a disease that has caused blood-filled tumors in his head, neck and throat.

The Supreme Court broadly upheld lethal injection a decade ago but left open the possibility that individual inmates could press challenges based on their own particular circumstances.

The court voted 5-4 to halt Bucklew’s execution on March 20 while the justices considered whether to take up his appeal. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote on death-penalty cases, voted with the court’s liberal wing in the majority.

Bucklew, who has proposed the state look to lethal gas an alternative way of killing him, says a federal appeals court made a series of errors in letting his execution go forward. Bucklew says the appeals court improperly assumed that the state’s medical team would be able to manage his condition during the execution.

Bucklew was convicted of bursting in the home where his ex-girlfriend, Stephanie Ray, was staying in 1996. Bucklew shot and killed the homeowner, Michael Sanders, before abducting Ray and raping her. He isn’t challenging his conviction or death sentence.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley urged the Supreme Court not to hear the appeal, saying Bucklew waited too long to raise the issue and hasn’t provided enough evidence of a risk of severe pain.

The case, which the court will hear during the nine-month term that starts in October, is Bucklew v. Precythe, 17-8151.

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