A Missouri death row inmate has called for his planned execution next week to be videotaped, in the event that he might record evidence of a “prolonged and excruciating” procedure in line with a recently botched lethal injection that had a condemned man writhing in agony.
Russell Bucklew, 45, launched a legal bid Friday to have a videographer of his choice film his final moments, according to court documents obtained by Al Jazeera, amid mounting criticism of capital punishment procedures in Missouri and other states.
The convicted murderer’s execution will be the first since Oklahoma’s botched execution of death row inmate Clayton Lockett on April 29. Witnesses at the execution said Lockett grimaced in pain after the administration of a new combination of lethal drugs. The mixture of chemicals was at the center of a state Supreme Court case that had delayed the execution on grounds that the cocktail caused unnecessary pain and so amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.
Bucklew fears a similar fate.
"If Missouri officials are confident enough to execute Russell Bucklew, they should be confident enough to videotape it," Cheryl A. Pilate, one of Bucklew’s lawyers, said in a release.
The motion said the videotape will be necessary if Bucklew survives the execution and needs evidence to oppose a second attempt, or “suffers a prolonged and excruciating execution or chokes and suffocates to death” — in which case, a legal claim would be “brought in the name of his estate.”
Missouri began using a combination of three drugs for lethal injections in 1989. Late last year, after makers stopped selling those drugs for executions, Missouri switched to a form of the barbiturate pentobarbital.
Death penalty opponents have criticized the lack of knowledge available regarding the drug.
“No data exists regarding the appropriate dosage of pentobarbital for inducing unconsciousness in human beings,” Friday’s motion said.
Bucklew suffers from a host of conditions that medical experts say would exacerbate his pain and suffering — which, he asserts, would amount to a violation of his Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
A court filing from Emory University anesthesiology and surgery professor, Joel Zivot, who reportedly examined Bucklew on Monday, said he suffers from hypertension and a series of tumors in and around his nose and throat that impair his breathing.
“If you touch [Bucklew’s airway], it bleeds,” Zivot’s affidavit said.
“Mr. Bucklew will be at great risk of choking and suffocating,” Zivot said, adding that the use of breathing tubes to aid breathing would cause “instant bleeding,” and that if he lies flat, his airway would be more obstructed.
“To my knowledge, Missouri’s execution protocol provides no contingency for a failed execution, or a situation in which the prisoner starts gasping for air or experiences hemorrhaging,” he said.
Missouri Department of Corrections spokesman David Owen declined to comment on Buckew’s case, saying that litigation was pending.
Friday’s motion cited Lockett’s botched execution as one example of the failures of lethal injection procedures nationwide.
“I’m the next guy up,” Bucklew said in a telephone interview with The Guardian, “Are they going to screw it up?”
“It scares me.”