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Supreme Court rules against Missouri inmate with rare health issue

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court said Monday that Missouri can execute an inmate who argued his rare medical condition will result in severe pain if he is given death-causing drugs.

The justices split along ideological lines in ruling 5-4 against inmate Russell Bucklew, who is on death row for a 1996 murder.

Justice Neil Gorsuch’s opinion for the court’s five conservative justices rejected Bucklew’s argument that subjecting him to lethal injection could cause a tumor in his throat to burst and make him choke on his own blood. Bucklew said that would violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

“Today we bring this case to a close at last because we agree with the courts below that Mr. Bucklew’s claim isn’t supported by either the law or the evidence,” Gorsuch said in summarizing his decision from the bench.

Bucklew was up against Supreme Court precedent in trying to get the justices to agree with him. The court has previously ruled that inmates challenging a method of execution have to show that there’s an alternative that is likely to be less painful. Bucklew proposed that Missouri execute him by having him breathe pure nitrogen gas through a mask instead of by injecting him with a lethal dose of pentobarbital.

But Missouri said no state has ever carried out an execution as Bucklew suggested, calling his proposal vague and untested.

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Bucklew is on death row for the 1996 murder of Michael Sanders, who was living with Bucklew’s former girlfriend. After entering a trailer where the two were living with their children, Bucklew fatally shot Sanders and later raped his former girlfriend. Bucklew was arrested after a car chase and shootout with police.

The case is 17-8151, Bucklew v. Precythe.