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UPDATE: US Supreme Court Halts Execution of Russell Bucklew | The Nation

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Steven Hsieh

Steven Hsieh

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UPDATE: US Supreme Court Halts Execution of Russell Bucklew

Russell Bucklew

Russell Bucklew (AP Images/Missouri Department of Corrections)

UPDATE (5/22/2014 10:15 am): The US Supreme Court on Wednesday indefinitely stayed the execution of Missouri death row prisoner Russell Bucklew, permitting an appeal in a lower court to go forward. "As a panel of the Eighth Circuit recognized, Mr. Bucklew presented strong medical evidence—that the Missouri Department of Corrections failed to contest—showing the likelihood of unnecessary pain and suffering beyond what is constitutionally permissible," said Cheryl Pilate, on of Bucklew's attorneys, in a statement. "Today's stay of execution will give the lower federal courts time to consider Mr. Bucklew's claim that his execution would violate his rights under the Eighth Amendment to be free from cruel and unusual punishment."

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UPDATE (5/21/2014, 12:06 am): There’s been a dramatic turn of events in the past hour, culminating in Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s granting a temporary stay of execution for Missouri death row prisoner Russell Bucklew. As CBS’s Andrew Cohen first reported, the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit voted seven-to-four to dissolve its stay of execution for Russell Bucklew less than two hours before his scheduled lethal injection on Wednesday, 12:01 am Central Time. Only three judges voted in the court’s previous ruling. Minutes after the appellate court’s decision, Justice Alito temporarily halted Bucklew’s execution, pending arguments from the state and defense. “It is ordered that execution of the sentence of death is hereby stayed pending further order of the undersigned or of the Court,” Alito wrote.

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A federal appeals court halted the execution of a Missouri death row prisoner on Tuesday, just hours before he was scheduled to die.

Attorneys for convicted murderer and rapist Russell Bucklew, 46, argued that proceeding with the execution would put him at great risk of experiencing “excruciating” pain, due to a rare birth defect that causes vascular tumors to grow on his face and neck. He was scheduled for lethal injection on Wednesday at 12:01 am.

“We are deeply relieved that the panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has granted a stay of execution for Russell Bucklew, who faced substantial risk of a prolonged, tortuous execution tonight due to his rare and serious medical condition,” said Cheryl Pilate, one of Bucklew’s attorneys, in a statement.

In a two-to-one ruling, the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit delayed Bucklew’s execution for sixty days.

“Bucklew’s unrebutted medical evidence demonstrates the requisite sufficient likelihood of unnecessary pain and suffering beyond the constitutionally permissible amount inherent in all executions,” judges Michael Melloy and Kermit Bye wrote in their ruling.

Bucklew suffers from a rare condition called cavernous hemangioma, which has caused him a lifetime of facial hemorrhaging. Dr. David Zivot, professor of Anesthesiology at Emory University, physically examined Bucklew earlier this month, and concluded that his condition would put him at risk of a “prolonged and extremely painful execution.” Zivot specified that tumors on Bucklew’s face and neck, symptomatic of his condition, could cause him to hemorrhage or gasp for air during a lethal injection. Two other physicians submitted affidavits supporting these claims.

The eleventh-hour order reverses a district court ruling, which argued that Bucklew should present an alternative method of execution if he believed that lethal injection would subject him to unconstitutional pain. The conservative Eighth Court of Appeals noted that Missouri had repeatedly refused to grant Bucklew a medical examination. Bucklew’s attorneys, who are representing him pro bono, paid Dr. Zivot to physically examine their client.

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