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SCOTUS Rules Against Man Whose Blood Could Kill Him

Russell Bucklew wanted to be put to death using nitrogen gas
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 1, 2019 1:09 PM CDT
Updated Apr 1, 2019 2:19 PM CDT
SCOTUS Rules Against Man Whose Blood Could Kill Him
This undated photo provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections shows Russell Bucklew.   (Missouri Department of Corrections via AP)

(Newser) – The death penalty does not violate the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment—but the Supreme Court on Monday expressed that death-row inmates are not guaranteed a "painless death," ruling 5-4 along ideological lines in a case brought by Russell Bucklew. The 50-year-old is scheduled to be put to death in Missouri for a 1996 murder, and Reuters reports he has been fighting to change his method of execution due to a rare congenital condition. Bucklew suffered from cavernous hemangioma, which has caused blood-filled tumors to form from his neck up. He argued lethal injection could cause a tumor in his throat to rupture, which could leave him choking on his own blood, reports the AP. He sought to die via lethal gas instead. More:

  • His proposal was that he be fitted with a mask that would have him breathe pure nitrogen gas. Missouri had argued that such a method is untested, with no state having carried out an execution in that manner. (Though NPR notes Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in his dissent that three states have approved it as an alternative method of execution.)

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  • In the majority opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote Bucklew did not provide evidence that dying by gas would be less painful: "We agree with the courts below that Mr. Bucklew's claim isn't supported by either the law or the evidence."
  • Another line for Gorsuch: "The Eighth Amendment does not guarantee a prisoner a painless death—something that, of course, isn't guaranteed to many people, including most victims of capital crimes."
  • The Washington Post reports Breyer wrote that, on the contrary, Bucklew had given evidence that lethal injection could lead him to "sputter, choke, and suffocate on his own blood for up to several minutes before he dies."
  • The New York Times titles its piece on the ruling, "Rancor and Raw Emotion Surface in Supreme Court Death Penalty Ruling." It digs into the majority's finding that Bucklew had waited too long to protest the execution method, and how that relates to February and March execution-related decisions.
  • Bucklew was sentenced to die for the murder of Michael Sanders, who was living with Bucklew's ex-girlfriend, whom he raped in the trailer she shared with Sanders.
(Read more death penalty stories.)

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