US & Canada

US Supreme Court delays Missouri execution

Russell Bucklew in a Missouri hand-out photo Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Bucklew's veins could rupture after an injection, his lawyers argued

The US Supreme Court has delayed the execution of a Missouri man amid concerns a medical condition could complicate the lethal injection and cause undue suffering.

Convicted murderer Russell Bucklew, 46, had been scheduled to die at 00:01 local time (04:01 GMT), before a series of court decisions led to a stay.

His lawyers say a congenital deformity would put him at risk of choking.

The execution was to be the first since a botched lethal injection last month.

A prisoner in Oklahoma, Clayton Lockett, took 43 minutes to die after the executioners had trouble finding a vein in which to inject the triple drug cocktail.

That led US President Barack Obama to call for a review of the problems surrounding the application of the death penalty.

Bucklew's reprieve came after a tortuous 24 hours of legal wrangling that set his execution on, then off and then on again, as a regional federal court granted him a stay of execution, only to have that stay overturned hours later by the full court.

Then, with just two hours to go until the scheduled execution, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who handles emergency appeals for the 8th Circuit region, issued his own stay.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Lockett died 43 minutes after his first injection

The Supreme Court later lifted Justice Alito's stay but issued a new one which will remain in effect until the regional court hears a new appeal.

Bucklew suffers from a condition called cavernous hemangioma, which causes malformation of the blood vessels and tumours in the throat and nose.

In an affidavit for his defence team, an anaesthesiologist and surgeon wrote last week that during an execution he would be "at great risk of choking and suffocating because of his partially obstructed airway".

In 1996, Bucklew murdered a man he believed was romantically involved with his ex-girlfriend, then raped the woman during his escape from the scene of the murder.

US states have had increasing trouble in recent years finding drugs to use in executions, amid an embargo from the European Union, where pharmaceutical manufacturers have refused to ship drugs to buyers in the US for use in lethal injection.

The shortage has led the states in some cases to turn to lesser-regulated compounding pharmacies.

Missouri executes inmates with a single, lethal dose of the drug pentobarbital.

Like other states, it keeps the source of the drug secret, in an effort to shield the provider from scrutiny and unfavourable publicity.

News organisations and inmates have sued the states in an effort to force them to disclose the companies names. Their efforts have been rejected by the courts.

Earlier this month, a US court stayed the execution of a Texas man after his lawyers argued he was intellectually disabled.

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