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Supreme Court Stays Execution Pending Lower Court Appeals

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By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on May 23, 2014 1:55 PM

Russell Bucklew was on death row and his execution was scheduled for Wednesday, but because of last minute legal maneuvers, was put off.

After a stay was granted, lifted and put back into place, a full Supreme Court decided to grant a stay pending further appeals. Here's a detailed look at the situation.

Russell Bucklew

Russell Bucklew was convicted of murdering a man in front of the victim's children, and raping and murdering his ex-girlfriend, and was described once by a prosecutor as a "homicidal Energizer bunny," reports NBC News. In addition to his homicidal tendencies, Bucklew suffers from a rare medical condition, cavernous hemangioma, which results in lesions on his face and neck, reports Raw Story.

Now, Bucklew has two appeals pending, one in state court, and the other in federal court according to SCOTUSblog. In the Eighth Circuit, Bucklew is trying to delay his execution based on his medical condition, because he's "worried it could be painful," reports The Associate Press.

The Context of the Execution

Bucklew's attempts come on the heels of Clayton D. Lockett's botched execution, where the apparent pain Lockett felt has brought into question the secrecy surrounding lethal injections. Rather than challenging the practice in general, Bucklew is challenging lethal injection just in its application to him because of his medical condition, arguing that his illness could prevent the lethal injections from working the way they should, making the procedure very painful in violation of the Constitution.

Bucklew's Fate?

On Tuesday, in a 2-1 vote, the Eighth Circuit voted to stay Bucklew's execution, the state appealed, and an en banc panel of the Eighth Circuit overturned the stay. Within minutes, Justice Alito, who handles emergency matters in the Eighth Circuit, granted a stay. Because the death warrant would remain in effect until Thursday, May 22, 12:01 a.m., the full panel of the Supreme Court had until then to act, reports NBC News.

And act it did, on Wednesday evening when the Court granted the stay. In an unsigned order, the Court stated: "The application is granted pending the disposition of petitioner's appeal. We leave for further consideration in the lower courts whether an evidentiary hearing is necessary."

For now Russell Bucklew has a bit more time on his hands. We expect this won't be the last time the Supreme Court has to rule on this case.

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