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Federal court upholds March 20 execution of Missouri inmate

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

A federal appeals court has OK'd the execution of a Missouri man who suffers from a medical condition he says would make the lethal injection unconstitutionally painful.

Russell Bucklew, 49, was sentenced to death in 1996 for shooting and killing a romantic rival, and kidnapping and raping his ex-girlfriend. His execution is set for March 20.

Bucklew has cavernous hemangioma, which causes his blood vessels to form tumors inside his body, especially in areas like the nose and throat. Thefederal civil rights lawsuit filed in 2014, just days before his originally scheduled execution, said the disorder means the execution drug, pentobarbital, will not circulate well enough to be effective. The tumors could also burst under the stress, the suit said, causing Bucklew to choke on his own blood.

In a 2-1 opinion released Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that Bucklew had not suggested a less-painful or less-risky method of execution, a step that is required by earlier court opinions. The panel heard the case in a special session because of the scheduled execution.

An attorney for Bucklew, Cheryl Pilate, said the decision was disappointing, and she planned to ask the full appeals court to hear the case.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.