Samuel Alito gives stay of execution in Missouri – a look at the case

Samuel Alito granted a stay of execution for Russell Bucklew, convicted of killing a man in 1996. The case is under consideration because Missouri refuses to name the supplier of its execution drug, and because Bucklew has been diagnosed with a rare congenital disease.

Jeff Roberson/AP
A group of death penalty opponents hold a vigil outside St. Francis Xavier College Church hours before the scheduled execution of Missouri death row inmate Russell Bucklew May 20, in St. Louis. A federal appeals court has granted a stay of execution for Bucklew, hours before he was scheduled to die for killing a southeast Missouri man in 1996.

Missouri's seventh execution in seven months, and the nation's first since one went awry in Oklahoma, was on hold after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito granted a stay of execution.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said the full Supreme Court is expected to weigh the inmate's appeal on Wednesday. If the court rejects the appeal, Missouri could still carry out the execution on Wednesday. Inmate appeals have targeted Missouri's secretive execution process, which does not reveal the state's source of lethal drugs. There is new attention on Missouri's execution after Oklahoma put executions on hold amid an investigation into what caused an inmate's vein to collapse during his lethal injection. Here are details about the case:

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WHO IS BEING EXECUTED AND WHAT WAS THE CRIME?

Russell Bucklew, 46, stole a car, guns and handcuffs from his police officer brother in March 1996 and tracked down his ex-girlfriend, Stephanie Pruitt. He killed the man she was living with, Michael Sanders, at Sanders' mobile home. He kidnapped Pruitt, drove to a remote area and raped her, then got into a shootout with a Missouri State trooper. He escaped jail and attacked Pruitt's mother with a hammer before he was finally jailed for good.

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WHAT IS MISSOURI'S EXECUTION METHOD?

Missouri uses a single-drug injection of the sedative pentobarbital. The state switched to pentobarbital late last year after previously using a three-drug method. Missouri has executed six inmates with pentobarbital since November. Bucklew would be the seventh.

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WHAT IS THE KEY ISSUE IN THE MISSOURI CASE?

There are two and they are related. Like many states, Missouri refuses to name the supplier of its execution drug and will not say whether the drug has undergone quality testing. Attorneys for Bucklew and other death row inmates contend that if they don't know what's in the drug, who made it or where it was tested, it is impossible to know that inmates wouldn't be subjected to agonizing pain during executions that would violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Bucklew also suffers from a rare congenital disease that causes weakened and malformed blood vessels and has impaired circulation.

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HOW DOES MISSOURI DIFFER FROM OKLAHOMA?

Oklahoma has a three-drug lethal injection method that includes the drugs midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride — all potent drugs with potentially serious side effects. Midazolam is a short-acting sedative sometimes used to calm patients before medical procedures or before surgery involving general anesthesia. Vecuronium bromide is a muscle relaxant and used during some surgeries. Potassium chloride is used to treat potassium deficiency but is used in executions to stop the heart.

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WHAT WENT WRONG IN OKLAHOMA?

Inmate Clayton Lockett writhed on the gurney, gritted his teeth, lifted his head several times and moaned before dying of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after the start of his execution on April 29.

A doctor inside the death chamber reported Lockett's vein had collapsed and some of the lethal drugs were absorbed into his tissue or leaked out. The prison system director then called off the execution, but Lockett died about 10 minutes later. A state report showed Lockett had an intravenous tap placed at his groin because suitable veins couldn't be found elsewhere in his body.

Oklahoma has put executions on hold while an investigation is ongoing, but authorities have suggested the trouble started with Lockett's vein rather than the drugs. Many defense attorneys, meanwhile, say the incident bolsters calls for greater execution drug transparency.

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WHY HAVE STATES HAD TO SEEK DRUGS FROM NEW PROVIDERS?

Death penalty opponents have pressured drug manufacturers, many of them in Europe where capital punishment opposition is strong, to withhold sales of their products from U.S. prison and corrections agencies for use in the death penalty.

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