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Supreme Court Issues Stay of Execution for Missouri Inmate

Last minute reprieve caps rollercoaster legal battle over potentially "torturous" lethal injection procedure

Russell Bucklew shown in this Feb. 9, 2014 photo provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections.

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a stay of execution for Missouri death row inmate Russell Bucklew after a series of legal decisions in the last twenty-four hours saw his fate rollercoaster through the federal court system.

The nation's highest court granted its stay Wednesday morning, giving credence to  the arguments of Bucklew's lawyers who say his rare blood condition coupled with secrecy surrounding the lethal injection cocktail now in use by the state of Missouri could lead to "undue suffering" during his execution.

"The state does not have the right to inflict extreme, torturous pain during an execution," said Cheryl Pilate, part of Bucklew's legal team. "We still hope that Mr. Bucklew's grave medical condition and compromised airway will persuade the governor or a court to step back from this extremely risky execution."

The court did not make specific comments on the case, but the stay is in effect until midnight Wednesday and his case in now under their consideration.

According to Reuters, "Bucklew's lawyers argued that malformed blood vessels in his head and neck could rupture under stress, causing the drugs administered during execution to circulate improperly and cause him undue suffering. The condition is called cavernous hemangioma."

Late on Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals granted Bucklew a stay, but that ruling was overturned just hours later when the full court weighed in.

The recent and growing use of unproven drugs used by Missouri and other states has put renewed focus of the national death penalty debate. Oklahoma's use of an un-tested and still-secret combination of narcotics last month resulted in the gruesome "botched" execution of Clayton Lockett. Not alone in this practice, other states have turned to private and undisclosed "compounding agencies" to obtain ingredients for their lethal injections after suppliers in Europe cut off access to drugs traditionally used in the death penalty.

*Correction: This article has been updated to correct a mistake about the location of Bucklew's incarceration.

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