FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Method of Missouri’s Madness

Missouri is back. It encounters the death penalty repeatedly,  and its encounters serve as reminders of what a great country we live in.  We are willing to endlessly discuss and litigate how best to implement the death penalty.  One of our greatest attributes is that in proper circumstances (and before an execution takes place), the person with the greatest interest in the execution procedure is permitted to explain to a court why the method selected by the executioner is less desirable than the method the participant proposes.  The case of Bucklew v. Precythe is a case in point.  Mr. Bucklew is the plaintiff in that case.

Mr. Buklew engaged in some heinous acts, and following his arrest, was convicted of murder, kidnapping, and rape. His trial and conviction and appeals were in Missouri, and Missouri is one of the states that continues to use the death penalty as a form of punishment.  For obvious reasons,  Mr. Bucklew had a vested interest in understanding how the death penalty and he were going to be executed.  His interest was particularly keen, because he has a unique medical condition that he and his doctors believe would result in his suffering cruel and unusual pain and suffering if he were to be executed using Missouri’s lethal injection protocol.  If his claim that the procedure would subject him to cruel and unusual punishment because of his medical condition is in fact true, his execution would violate the pertinent provisions of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Having lost all appeals at the state level, Mr. Bucklew went to the Federal Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit.

In considering Mr. Bucklew’s appeal, that court engaged in an extremely careful analysis of what Mr. Bucklew must demonstrate in order to compel the state to execute him in the manner he has selected, rather than the method selected by the state. To succeed in his efforts, the Court said,  Mr. Bucklew must: “establish that the method [proposed by the state] presents a risk that is sure or very likely to cause serious illness and needless suffering, and give rise to sufficiently imminent dangers.”  (The Court does not discuss what kind of “serious illness” can befall someone who is being executed,  since it would seem to those unfamiliar with the process, that if one is dead within a few minutes following the beginning of the procedure, “serious illness” would not be a real problem.  It is also unclear what is meant by “imminent dangers” as used in the sentence just quoted.) The Court goes on to say, quoting from an earlier case, that in addition to satisfying those criteria, the prospective participant in the execution must also show that the proposed consequences of the execution procedure are “severe in relation to the pain and suffering that is accepted as inherent in any method of execution.” 

Further, and again quoting from an earlier case, the Court says the challenger must: “identify an alternative that is feasible, readily implemented, and in fact significantly reduces a substantial risk of severe pain.” That seems particularly compassionate, since it demonstrates that an execution may become a collaborative effort between the person being executed, and the executioner, if the person being executed proposes a method permitted under the applicable state law.

In addition to lethal injection, Missouri permits the imposition of death on someone who has received a death sentence, by use of nitrogen gas.   Mr. Bucklew asserted that in his particular case, with his medical condition, the executioner should kill him with nitrogen gas rather than lethal injection. (To avoid any confusion, it should be noted that the nitrogen gas (N) used in executions, differs from N20 known as “laughing gas.” A  person exposed to N in the execution chamber would die from asphyxiation rather than laughing.  However,  some studies suggest death from nitrogen may, in fact, be mildly euphoric.)

Mr. Bucklew’s case demonstrates that as in any collaborative effort, there are limits.  Missouri resisted Mr. Bucklew’s efforts to persuade the Court of Appeals that he should be executed by nitrogen gas, and the Court of Appeals agreed with the state.  In affirming the ruling of the trial court that lethal injection was appropriate for Mr. Bucklew, the Court said: “the [trial] court held that Bucklew failed to provide adequate evidence that his alternative method of execution-lethal nitrogen gas- was a ‘feasible, readily implemented’ alternative that would ‘in fact significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain’ as compared to lethal injection.” It said Bucklew “failed to establish that lethal injection, as applied to him, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.”

On April 30, 2018, the United States Supreme Court announced that it would consider Mr. Bucklew’s claims in its upcoming term.  The country will join Mr. Bucklew in eagerly awaiting the decision that will inform him (and us), of what method Missouri may use in executing him.

More articles by:

November 14, 2018
Sam Bahour
Israel’s Mockery of Security: 101 Actions Israel Could Take
Cesar Chelala
How a Bad Environment Impacts Children’s Health
George Ochenski
What Tester’s Win Means
Louisa Willcox
Saving Romania’s Brown Bears, Sharing Lessons About Coxistence, Conservation
George Wuerthner
Alternatives to Wilderness?
Robert Fisk
Izzeldin Abuelaish’s Three Daughters were Killed in Gaza, But He Still Clings to Hope for the Middle East
Dennis Morgan
For What?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Government is Our Teacher
Bill Martin
The Trump Experiment: Liberals and Leftists Unhinged and Around the Bend
Rivera Sun
After the Vote: An Essay of the Man from the North
Jamie McConnell
Allowing Asbestos to Continue Killing
Thomas Knapp
Talkin’ Jim Acosta Hard Pass Blues: Is White House Press Access a Constitutional Right?
Bill Glahn
Snow Day
November 13, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Midterm Results are Challenging Racism in America in Unexpected Ways
Victor Grossman
Germany on a Political Seesaw
Cillian Doyle
Fictitious Assets, Hidden Losses and the Collapse of MDM Bank
Lauren Smith
Amnesia and Impunity Reign: Wall Street Celebrates Halliburton’s 100th Anniversary
Joe Emersberger
Moreno’s Neoliberal Restoration Proceeds in Ecuador
Carol Dansereau
Climate and the Infernal Blue Wave: Straight Talk About Saving Humanity
Dave Lindorff
Hey Right Wingers! Signatures Change over Time
Dan Corjescu
Poetry and Barbarism: Adorno’s Challenge
Patrick Bond
Mining Conflicts Multiply, as Critics of ‘Extractivism’ Gather in Johannesburg
Ed Meek
The Kavanaugh Hearings: Text and Subtext
Binoy Kampmark
Concepts of Nonsense: Australian Soft Power
November 12, 2018
Kerron Ó Luain
Poppy Fascism and the English Education System
Conn Hallinan
Nuclear Treaties: Unwrapping Armageddon
Robert Hunziker
Tropical Trump Declares War on Amazonia
John W. Whitehead
Badge of Shame: the Government’s War on Military Veterans
Will Griffin
Military “Service” Serves the Ruling Class
John Eskow
Harold Pinter’s America: Hard Truths and Easy Targets
Rob Okun
Activists Looking Beyond Midterm Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Mid-Term Divisions: The Trump Take
Dean Baker
Short-Term Health Insurance Plans Destroy Insurance Pools
George Wuerthner
Saving the Buffalohorn/Porcupine: the Lamar Valley of the Gallatin Range
Patrick Howlett-Martin
A Note on the Paris Peace Forum
Joseph G. Ramsey
Does America Have a “Gun Problem”…Or a White Supremacy Capitalist Empire Problem?
Weekend Edition
November 09, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Louis Proyect
Why Democrats Are So Okay With Losing
Andrew Levine
What Now?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Chuck and Nancy’s House of Cards
Brian Cloughley
The Malevolent Hypocrisy of Selective Sanctions
Marc Levy
Welcome, Class of ‘70
David Archuleta Jr.
Facebook Allows Governments to Decide What to Censor
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Zika Scare: a Political and Commercial Maneuver of the Chemical Poisons Industry
Nick Pemberton
When It Comes To Stone Throwing, Democrats Live In A Glass House
Ron Jacobs
Impeach!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail