Russell Bucklew and Ernest L. Johnson claim they are too sick to executed in Missouri, according to the Kansas City Star.
Though 18 other Missouri inmates have been executed over the past 24 months, Bucklew and Johnson have been spared a one-way trip to the state’s death chamber, at least temporarily, while they pursue their unique appeal argument.
Both suffer from medical conditions that their attorneys argue could create painful reactions if authorities attempt to execute them with lethal injection chemicals.
But to prevail on the argument that the inmates face an unconstitutional risk of cruel and unusual pain, attorneys for the convicted killers are required by previous court rulings to offer an alternative method for their clients’ demise.
For Johnson, whose execution was stayed last month by the U.S. Supreme Court, and Bucklew, who won a stay from the Supreme Court in May 2014, the alternative proposed by their lawyers is the gas chamber.
A relic of Missouri’s capital punishment past, it still is an authorized form of execution under Missouri law, although the state no longer has a working gas chamber.
Bucklew’s attorneys also have raised a possible second alternative of death by firing squad.
Although a firing squad is not authorized currently by Missouri law, Bucklew’s lawyers said that they didn’t foresee “much trouble” for lawmakers to pass firing squad legislation “considering the political landscape” in the state.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., the traditional means of lethal gas execution involved strapping an inmate to a chair in a sealed room.
Crystals of sodium cyanide were then added to a pail of sulfuric acid to create a cloud of hydrogen cyanide gas.
Witnesses described evidence of “extreme horror, pain and strangling.”
“The eyes pop. The skin turns purple and the victim begins to drool,” one former California prison official reported.
Though Missouri’s gas chamber has not been used for 50 years, it still is housed inside a small building at the now-closed prison in Jefferson City and is part of tours conducted by the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau.
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