Missouri to execute man convicted of killing ex-girlfriend's boyfriend

By Brendan O'Brien

Oct 1 (Reuters) - A man convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend's boyfriend in 1996 is due to be executed in Missouri on Tuesday, after a court rejected his argument that he faces a cruel and unusual punishment due to a rare medical condition that would make lethal injection severely painful.

Russell Bucklew, 51, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at 6 p.m. local time at the state's death chamber in Bonne Terre for the murder of Michael Sanders, his ex-girlfriend's lover, in 1996.

On Valentine's Day of that year, Stephanie Ray broke up with Bucklew. About three weeks later, Bucklew found Ray and Sanders together in Sanders' Cape Girardeau County trailer and put a knife to Sanders' throat and threatened to kill him. Later that night, Bucklew cut Ray's jaw and punched her in the face, court papers showed.

On March 20, after Ray and Sanders moved in together, Bucklew stole a car and two of his brother's pistols, handcuffs and a roll of duct tape. The next day, Bucklew went to the trailer where they lived and shot and killed Sanders. He also shot at Sanders' 6-year-old son, but missed, according to court documents.

Bucklew then handcuffed Ray, dragged her to the stolen vehicle and drove away. He later sexually assaulted her. When authorities found him, he wounded a police officer before they took him into custody, according to court papers.

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Bucklew had said that lethal injection might inflict undue pain by rupturing blood-filled tumors on his face, head, neck and throat caused by a rare congenital condition called cavernous hemangioma. Bucklew argued that would be in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment.

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, ruled 5-4 against Bucklew in April this year. Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the court’s majority that "the Eighth Amendment does not guarantee a prisoner a painless death - something that, of course, isn’t guaranteed to many people, including most victims of capital crimes."

Bucklew would be the first inmate in Missouri to be executed since January 2017, when the state put to death Mark Christeson, who was convicted of killing a woman and her two children. Bucklew would also be the 17th inmate to be executed in the United States in 2019, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. (Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Jane Wardell)

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