Russell Bucklew is scheduled to die for killing a romantic rival as part of a crime spree in southeast Missouri in 1996. Bucklew is seen in this Feb. 9 file photo provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections. / AP
The sharp contrast playing out in Missouri as the clock ticks down on America's next execution showcases the national debate over capital punishment. A former prosecutor says lethal injection is the right fate for "the most evil man I ever prosecuted," and the convicted murderer pleads not to die in agony from the drug that is designed to kill him.
"I'm sick about it not working on me," Russell Bucklew told The Guardian newspaper earlier this month as his execution, set for 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, neared. "I'm afraid that it's going to turn me into a vegetable, that I'd be brain-dead. You saw what happened down in Oklahoma."
The man who prosecuted him, former Cape Girardeau County prosecutor Morley Swingle, called Bucklew "a pure sociopath." He said concerns about the drug to be 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 could be as excruciating an ordeal as the botched lethal injection of an Oklahoma man April 29, according to court documents filed by his lawyer.
The lawyer, Cheryl Pilate, also argued that Missouri is making the kind of last-minute changes to its execution procedures that come under criticism as states use untested execution methods because of a scarcity of drugs needed for lethal injections.
Her request for a court order to delay the execution of Bucklew, 46, was denied Monday by a federal judge, clearing one of the final hurdles before lethal injection is carried out.
Missouri corrections officials said they would stop using a dye to verify that intravenous fluids were flowing properly. The eleventh-hour switch stemmed from a controversy over whether the dye would cause problems. It's not clear whether a new dye will be used to ensure the intravenous flow is working properly.
"These are the changes in protocol that are being made on the fly," Pilate said. "It appears reckless, to be honest."
Bucklew was convicted in the 1996 murder of a m
an living with his ex-girlfriend, and the kidnapping and rape of his former girlfriend.
In a telephone interview with The Guardian newspaper earlier this month, Bucklew freely admitted his violent crimes and said he was scared about how he would die.
The death penalty across the country has come under intense scrutiny in recent years because of issues involving lethal injection.
Prison officials have resorted to using new combinations of drugs and buying some of them from compounding pharmacies, which are not under close federal regulation and which agree to sell only if their identities remain confidential.
Missouri prison officials announced last year that they were including on its execution team - a group of people who by law remain unnamed - any compounding pharmacy that provides lethal drugs. Georgia's law that keeps secret the source of its execution drug is constitutional, the state's highest court ruled Monday.
Pilate requested a delay in the Missouri execution based on sworn statements by two doctors who say a congenital condition suffered by Bucklew since he was an infant could lead to an excruciating death by lethal injection.
Bucklew has benign tumors made of weakened and malformed blood vessels in his head, face and throat that are prone to cause bleeding in his mouth and interfere with breathing, according to court documents filed by his lawyers.
Their concern is that during the state's lethal injection of a barbiturate, pentobarbital, the stress may cause Bucklew to bleed heavily, leading him to suffocate on his own blood. Blocked blood vessels also may impede the delivery of the lethal dose, prolonging the execution, the documents say.
Missouri has used this method in six previous executions without any apparent complications.
Pilate cited the Oklahoma case in which condemned murderer Clayton Lockett took 43 minutes to die as he strained, mumbled, groaned and writhed against restraints while drugs were administered.
The execution was halted, but Lockett died of a heart attack. A second execution planned for the same evening was postponed by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and an investigation launched to understand what went wrong. Oklahoma used a series of three drugs to induce death, and there were initial conclusions by prison officials that executioners had difficulty injecting the drugs into Lockett's veins.
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