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Thursday, October 3, 2019

Russell Bucklew: A Painless Death For A Man Who Didn't Deserve To Live

     In 1995, 27-year-old Russell Bucklew, a criminal with a violent past, resided with his girlfriend Stephanie Ray in Cape Girardeau County, Missouri. On Valentine's Day 1996, following months of physical abuse, Ray left Russell Bucklew. During the next several weeks, he harassed her, punched her in the face, and cut her with a knife. Fearing for her life, she moved into a nearby mobile home with Michael Sanders and his 6-year-old son.

     The day after Stephanie Ray moved in with her friend Michael Sanders, Bucklew, thinking that Mr. Sanders was her new boyfriend, stole his nephew's car, and in possession of two pistols, a set of handcuffs, and duct tape, drove to Sander's home with the intent to kill him. It was there he shot Michael Sanders to death, and shot at, but missed, the victim's son.

     Following the cold-blooded murder, Bucklew handcuffed Stephanie Ray, dragged her into the stolen car, and drove from the murder scene. Shortly thereafter, he beat and raped his ex-girlfriend.

     Later on the day of Bucklew's crime spree, a Missouri State Trooper spotted him in the stolen car outside of St. Louis. In an exchange of gunfire, both men were wounded. Other police officers took Bucklew into custody, and after being treated and released from the hospital, he was booked into jail on charges of kidnapping, rape, assaulting a police officer, attempted murder, and murder.

     Shortly after his arrest, Bucklew escaped from the Cape Girardeau Jail, and before being re-arrested, attacked Stephanie Ray's mother and the mother's boyfriend with a hammer.

     Convicted in 1997 of first-degree murder and numerous other offenses, the judge sentenced Bucklew to death. The death row inmate would spend the next fifteen years or so in a 6 by 14 foot cell at the maximum security prison in Potosi, Missouri.

     While serving his time in prison, Bucklew developed a medical condition called cavernous hemangioma. He had blood-filled tumors in his head, neck and throat, and had to breathe with the help of a tracheostomy tube.

     In May 2014, just before Bucklew was scheduled for execution, his death house attorneys won a last-minute reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court. A majority of the justices were concerned that Bucklew might, due to his illness, suffer some pain when given the lethal dose of pentobarbital.

     In 2019, as Bucklew's new execution date approached, his case was once again before the U.S. Supreme Court. Bucklew's anti-capital punishment lawyers once again argued that their client's throat tumor might burst after receiving the lethal injection, causing the poor man to choke and die painfully in violation of the Eighth Amendment's guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.

     On September 30, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment "does not guarantee a painless death."

     The day following the Supreme Court decision, at the Missouri State Prison in Bonne Terre, Russell Bucklew, elevated on the death table to minimize complications from the pentobarbital injection, was executed. There were no outward signs suggesting the 51-year-old suffered an undue amount of discomfort, considerations he had not afforded the victims of his murder, assaults, and rape.

     Morley Swinge, the Cape Girardeau County prosecutor in charge of Bucklew's prosecution, told reporters that Bucklew was "the most pure sociopath I ever prosecuted. He was ruthless in the way he came after his victims."

     Except for a handful of anti-capital punishment sob-sisters protesting outside the Missouri death house, it was good riddance to a horrible person.

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