The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision against a death row inmate in Missouri who claimed that his execution by lethal injection would cause him “severe harm and suffering” because he suffers from a rare disease.
Russell Bucklew’s challenge marked the first major death penalty case that was argued since Justice Brett Kavanaugh replaced Justice Anthony Kennedy. Last spring, Kennedy voted with the court’s four liberals to put the execution on hold.
While the Supreme Court has broadly upheld death by lethal injection, lawyers for Bucklew argued that in his particular case the disease, called cavernous hemangioma, is progressive and causes an “unstable blood-filled tumor to grow in his head, neck and throat,” and they concluded that if he were to undergo lethal injection he could suffer from prolonged suffocation.
Bucklew argued the state should consider death by lethal gas as an alternative.
Lawyers for the state dispute the findings of the medical expert and emphasize that Bucklew engaged in lengthy delays in fighting his death sentence. They argue that Missouri’s one drug protocol is “the most humane and effective method of execution” available and that the state has no experience with lethal gas.