lethal injection

In Bucklew v. Precythe the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Missouri wasn’t required to execute Russell Bucklew using a drug he claimed would cause him less pain due to his unusual medical condition, cavernous hemangioma.

Bucklew was sentenced to death for killing a neighbor who was sheltering his former girlfriend and her children after she broke up with Bucklew. Cavernous hemangioma causes tumors to grow in Bucklew’s head, neck, and throat. He claims that the sedative Missouri intends to use in its lethal injection protocol will cause him feelings of suffocation and excoriating pain due to his disease for a longer amount of time than the alternative drug he suggests. He claims Missouri’s protocol is unconstitutional as applied to him. 

The Eighth Amendment disallows “cruel and unusual punishment.” The Supreme Court held in Glossip v. Gross (2015) that a state’s refusal to alter its lethal injection protocol may violate the Eighth Amendment if an inmate identifies a “feasible, readily implemented” alternative procedure that would “significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain.”

Russell Bucklew was sentence to death for murder, kidnapping, and rape. He suffers from cavernous hemangioma, which causes clumps of weak, malformed blood vessels and tumors to grow in his face, head, neck, and throat.

Missouri intended to execute him by lethal injection. But he claims that killing him by gas, still on the books in Missouri but not used since 1965, would substantially reduce his risk of pain and suffering given his cavernous hemangioma. The Eighth Circuit rejected his request.

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide four issues in Bucklew v. Precythe. Until merits briefs are filed and oral argument is held in the fall it difficult to know what the Supreme Court will focus on. For now, the Eighth Circuit opinion provides the best clues.

CSG Midwest
A U.S. circuit court has dismissed claims by several Ohio death-row inmates that a state law on capital punishment unconstitutionally conceals information from them. The November decision affirmed a lower court ruling that the prisoners had no standing because they couldn’t prove harm from the denial of information, The (Toledo) Blade reports.

In Glossip v. Gross the Supreme Court held 5-4 that death row inmates are unlikely to succeed on their claim that using midazolam as a lethal injection drug amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

All death penalty states and the federal government use lethal injection. In Baze v. Rees (2008) the Court approved a three-drug protocol that begins with a sedative, sodium thiopental, followed by a paralytic agent and a drug that causes cardiac arrest. Anti-death penalty advocates have persuaded United States and foreign manufacturers to stop producing sodium thiopental and an alternative, pentobarbital. So, Oklahoma and other states began using midazolam. Oklahoma increased the dose from 100 milligrams to 500 milligrams after Clayton Lockett was moving and talking after being administered 100 milligrams of midazolam. (An investigation into Lockett’s execution concluded that problems establishing IV access was the “single greatest factor that contributed to the difficulty in administering the execution drugs.”)

CSG Midwest

Thirty-seven times during his long legislative career, Nebraska Sen. Ernie Chambers had introduced legislation to repeal the state’s death penalty. Every time, it had ended in defeat. And for those outside Nebraska, there was little reason to believe the 38th time would be the charm for death-penalty opponents — the newly elected governor supported capital punishment, and the Unicameral Legislature was still considered politically conservative. Inside the state Capitol, though, legislators were well aware that 2015 could finally be the year for a successful repeal.

“I knew there would be a serious push,” says Nebraska Sen. Beau McCoy, who opposed the repeal and, two years ago, had led a filibuster to stop a similar measure from advancing. Near the end of this year’s legislative session, supporters mustered not only enough votes to pass LB 268, but to override the veto of Gov. Pete Ricketts as well.
It marked the first time that a U.S. state’s repeal of the death penalty occurred over the veto of a governor.