Missouri's Planned Execution of Murderer Russell Bucklew Is Risky, To Say The Least

The Show-Me State is the latest to take center stage in the debate over the "humane" aspect of the death penalty: Missouri is planning the execution of Russell Bucklew, a death-row inmate with a rare medical condition. A federal judge refused to stop Wednesday's scheduled lethal injection, after convicted murderer Bucklew argued the procedure would cause a painful death due to a rare birth defect. Bucklew also asked for his execution to be videotaped in the event that things go awry, but that request was also denied.

Even Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon saw no reason to put a stop to the lethal injection, which would be the first such procedure since Oklahoma's botched execution in April. "This guy committed very, very heinous crimes and while it's a difficult and challenging part of this job, we'll continue to move forward unless a court says otherwise," Nixon told the AP.

Whether or not you agree with the death penalty, the painful death of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett suggested the lethal injection isn't always as humane as once thought. Attorneys for the Missouri prisoner say Bucklew, who was convicted of killing a man during a crime spree in 1996, could experience an execution just as excruciating as Lockett's because of his congenital condition.

While Oklahoma used a three-drug cocktail of midazolam, vecuronium bromide, and potassium chloride, Missouri is among eight states that use a single-drug injection of a barbiturate to make a person go unconscious, stop breathing, and die. Both states however, refused to name the supplier of its execution drugs, as well as whether the products underwent quality testing.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

It's a big issue of contention, as Oklahoma keeps its drug source under tight wraps, and Missouri's law prohibits disclosing the name of anyone who is part of the "execution team," include the drug provider, according to the state. Just last week, a group of five newspapers announced they were suing Missouri to force officials into revealing where they acquire controversial drugs.

Defense witness Dr. Joel Zivot explained that Bucklew "has a tumor growing in his face, occupying the nose, throat, and airway passages and causing him to experience constant facial pain and pressure as well as constant difficultly breathing." Court documents express concerns that Missouri's injection of pentobarbital may induce stress that will cause the inmate to bleed heavily, leading to suffocation from his own blood. There haven't been any incidents in the state's past six executions using the same method, but the issue remains in the spotlight after Oklahoma's April 29 procedure went terribly wrong.

The inmates' supporters aren't saying he shouldn't be executed — rather, he can't executed without being subject to "cruel and unusual punishment," as long as he has the tumor.

"Until the botched execution in Oklahoma of Mr. Lockett, the possibility of a prisoner surviving an execution seemed perhaps remote," Bucklew's attorneys said in a statement. "Now, the possibility of a failed execution is plain."