Death penalty opponents want governor to block Missouri inmate’s execution

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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — Several groups are trying to halt next week’s scheduled execution of Missouri inmate Russell Bucklew. He’s serving a death sentence for the 1996 murder of Michael Sanders of southeast Missouri’s Cape Girardeau.

The Missouri Supreme Court has scheduled an October 1 execution date for convicted killer Russell Bucklew, who’s incarcerated in Potosi (May 2018 file photo courtesy of the Missouri Department of Corrections)

Bucklew also severely attacked his ex-girlfriend, Stephanie Ray, and beat her mother and mother’s fiance over the heads with a hammer. They managed to survive Bucklew’s wrath. During the crime spree, he also got into a gun battle with law enforcement and survived a gunshot to the chest and head.

Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, the NAACP, Empower Missouri, the American Civil Liberties Union and others want Gov. Mike Parson to stop Bucklew’s execution. They argue that Bucklew’s rare brain condition could cause him to suffer a cruel death.

On Wednesday, they delivered some 57,000 petitions to Parson’s office making the request and resoundingly stating that the death penalty is not what Missouri stands for. According to ACLU volunteer Danielle Spradley, the petition signing has been circulated online for the past couple of months.

During Wednesday’s press conference at the state Capitol in Jefferson City, Jeff Stack with the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation says Bucklew would be the 89th person executed in the state since 1989.

“That’s a horrible number to think about. Missouri has been, sadly, a serial killer and we should be getting out of the business,” says Stack. “Mr. Bucklew committed some horrible crimes – no doubt. But we need to get out of this business of defining a human being by an action – a horrible action in their lives. We have no right to do that.”

Nimrod Chapel with the Missouri NAACP says the state’s high murder rate shows the death penalty does not prevent people from killing others.

“It’s almost as if murder has become passe,” says Chapel. “Well how does it get that way? We normalize it, right? The only other thing we could do with a state-sanctioned execution such as Mr. Bucklew’s, or any other for that matter, would be to show it on tv. Why not livestream it – if it has that effect? The truth is it doesn’t. Everybody recognizes that this is gross, that we as human beings shouldn’t be killing each other.”

If Missouri carries out Bucklew’s execution, Chapel says the state could likely face a higher level of scrutiny. The American Bar Association recommended that Missouri freezes the use of the death penalty.

“As I understand it, there will be an international inquiry as to whether Missouri has violated human rights laws by executing a man in Mr. Bucklew’s condition. So that’s what I think is next,” he says.

Chapel says there have been meetings with the governor and his staff about the case. He goes as far to say that Bucklew’s health warrants the man getting released from prison because Chapel says Bucklew is beyond the capacity to harm others.

Conner Kerrigan of Empower Missouri says the system is broken.

“We are not here because of a single bad decision by the Supreme Court. We are here because we have become dependent on a criminal justice system that was not built to consider any solution other than righteous punishment. We are here because of failure after failure after failure after failure of the system,” says Kerrigan. “Russell received no mitigation investigation for 20 years following his trial. This is a failure of the system. His family history of abuse, lead poisoning and opioid addiction were not mentioned at all during his trial, despite documentation that showed the effect that they had on him. This is a failure of the system. A secret payoff of a post-conviction lawyer muddied the waters of his investigation. This is a failure of the system.”

Parson spokesperson Kelli Jones says the governor takes seriously both his duty and responsibility to see that lawfully entered capital sentences are carried out in accordance with state law. Jones says each case of capital punishment will be thoroughly reviewed before any decision for pardon or clemency is made. She says Parson has consistently supported capital punishment when merited by the circumstances and all other legal remedies have been exhausted and when due process has been satisfied.

The Missouri Supreme Court has scheduled Bucklew’s execution to occur during a 24-hour window beginning Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the state prison in southeast Missouri’s Bonne Terre.

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