March 21, 2018 / 3:08 AM / 8 months ago

Missouri murderer gets stay of execution from U.S. Supreme Court

(Reuters) - A Missouri man convicted of murder and rape received a stay of execution from the U.S. Supreme Court moments before he was scheduled to die on Tuesday, after lawyers argued that a lethal injection would cause an agonizing death due to his a rare medical condition.

FILE PHOTO: Death row inmate Russell Bucklew is shown in this Missouri Department of Corrections photo taken on February 9, 2014. REUTERS/Missouri Department of Corrections/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

Russell Bucklew, 49, was granted a reprieve so his case could be reviewed further. It was his second last-minute stay in less than four years.

Bucklew suffers from a congenital ailment known as cavernous hemangioma, a malformation of blood vessels that could burst from the stress of lethal injection, leading to undue agony in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Bucklew was convicted of killing his former girlfriend’s new boyfriend and raping her more than two decades ago.

He was moments away from execution in May 2014 when the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay to allow Bucklew’s lawyers more time to pursue a lawsuit challenging his death sentence on the basis of his medical condition.

The Supreme Court vote to stay the execution was 5-4. Voting not to stay the execution were Chief Justice John Roberts, and Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.

Bucklew’s attorney, Cheryl Pilate, told Reuters by telephone on Monday that her client’s condition has declined since 2014, adding that doctors say his malady is untreatable and will eventually kill him.

Last month in Alabama, an execution was aborted for an inmate with severely compromised veins that led to a botched execution attempt, his lawyer claimed.

Bucklew was convicted of the 1996 murder of Michael Sanders in southeastern Missouri, and the kidnapping and rape of Stephanie Ray, an ex-girlfriend who had been seeing Sanders.

Last fall, the Missouri Supreme Court set the execution date for Tuesday.

Since the United States reinstated capital punishment in 1976, Missouri has executed 88 people. Missouri has not had an execution since January 2017. So far this year, six people have been put to death in the United States.

Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Editing by Michael Perry and Simon Cameron-Moore

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