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updated: 5/16/2014 5:19 PM

Condemned man in Missouri fears 'painful' execution

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  • Russell Bucklew

      Russell Bucklew

 
Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- A Missouri death row inmate scheduled to be the first person put to death in the U.S. since a botched execution in Oklahoma last month said he is scared the lethal drug could cause him to suffer or leave him alive but brain-dead.

Russell Bucklew, who turned 46 on Friday, is scheduled to die at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday for killing a man living with his ex-girlfriend as part of a crime spree in southeast Missouri in 1996.

It would be the first death penalty carried out in the U.S. since April 29, when Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett writhed on the gurney, gritted his teeth, and moaned before dying of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after the start of his execution. A doctor inside the death chamber during the execution reported that Lockett's vein collapsed and some of the lethal drugs were absorbed into his tissue or leaked out.

The incident prompted renewed concern about lethal injection in an era when many states, including Oklahoma and Missouri, have changed drugs they administer and refuse to disclose the source of the execution drugs.

Oklahoma put on hold a second execution scheduled for the same night as Lockett's death, while the state investigates what happened. A Texas inmate was scheduled to be put to death this week but a federal appeals court granted a stay of execution so his attorneys can pursue appeals arguing that he is mentally impaired and ineligible for the death penalty.

Bucklew suffers from a congenital condition that causes weakened and malformed blood vessels, and tumors in his nose and throat. He told AP in a phone interview Friday that he often bleeds from the eyes and ears. He has constant pain in the face that requires pain medication every six hours.

In light of his condition and what happened in Oklahoma, Bucklew said he's worried about what will happen to him.

"I'm worried it could be painful," Bucklew said. "I'm worried about being brain-dead. I understand the family (of the victim) wants closure, but we're victimizing my family here, too."

Former Cape Girardeau County prosecutor Morley Swingle said he has no sympathy for Bucklew.

"I truly believe he's probably the most evil person I ever prosecuted because he's such a pure sociopath," Swingle said. "When he had it in his mind to hurt somebody, you just couldn't stop him."

In March 1996, Bucklew tracked down his estranged girlfriend, Stephanie Pruitt, at the Cape Girardeau mobile home of Michael Sanders. Pruitt and her two young daughters were staying there with Sanders and his two young sons.

Bucklew shot Sanders in front of Pruitt and the kids, killing him. He grabbed Pruitt, took her to a remote area, and raped her.

When a Missouri state trooper spotted Bucklew later that night on Interstate 55, a chase began. Bucklew shot at the trooper and missed. The trooper shot back and grazed Bucklew's head. He later escaped from jail, hid inside the home of Pruitt's mother and attacked her with a hammer. She was able to get away and Bucklew was caught a short time later.

Bucklew said he was remorseful for the crime, and said he plans to revise his will to provide money for a college fund for the sons of the victim.

Bucklew's attorneys have filed court motions seeking a stay of execution, citing concerns about Missouri's secretive procurement of the execution drug and how that drug could create a "torturous" death due to Bucklew's medical condition.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, in a court response on Thursday, questioned why Bucklew waited until now to raise those concerns.

"There is no good reason Bucklew could not have brought his current suit six months ago, or six years ago," Koster wrote.

Swingle said concerns about the pentobarbital used in the execution "are grasping at straws. It's a very deadly poison and when they give it to him, he'll die."

Bucklew's execution would be the seventh in Missouri since November using pentobarbital, and there have been no apparent problems with the previous six.

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