Alabama executes 83-year-old; SCOTUS intervenes in case of seriously ill prisoner


The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided that Walter Leroy Moody wasn’t too old to be executed, but Russell Bucklew may be too sick.

Moody was executed last month, April 19, in Alabama. He was 83 years old, the oldest prisoner executed in the United States since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

In 1991, Moody was convicted in federal court, and sentenced to seven concurrent life sentences and 400 years, for the 1989 pipe bombing murders of U.S. 11th Circuit Judge Robert Vance and Georgia civil rights attorney Robert Robinson, who was killed two days after Vance. Five years later, he was convicted again, this time in Alabama, for killing Vance, and seriously injuring his wife in the bombing, and was sentenced to death by an 11-1 recommendation of the jury. reports that, “Both the Alabama Attorney General and U.S. Justice Department have said that the federal government had the right, under an agreement, to allow the state to take custody of Moody and have him serve his state sentence first.”

His lawyers had asked Gov. Kay Ivey for clemency, pointing out that Judge Vance had been personally opposed to the death penalty, but she denied the request.

About 15 minutes before Moody was scheduled to be executed, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay, but lifted it two hours later without explanation, and corrections officials proceeded that night.

Less than two weeks later, however, on April 30, the Court did agree to review the case of Russell Bucklew, who suffers from cavernous hemangioma, a rare medical condition that causes blood-filled tumors in his head, throat, and lips. The Court’s action follows a stay it issued on March 20, when Bucklew was within a few hours of his execution in Missouri. At that time, according to the Kansas City Star, his lawyers had argued that lethal injection would cause the 49-year-old Bucklew “excruciating pain of prolonged suffocation resulting from the complete obstruction of his airway,” and argued that if the execution had to go forward the state should use lethal gas instead of lethal injection because his veins were so compromised by his condition. Lethal gas is still an option in Missouri, but the Star reports that the state no longer has a gas chamber and has not used the method since 1965.

This is the second time the Court stayed Bucklew’s execution because of concerns about his medical condition. In May 2014, he was within minutes of entering the execution chamber when the Court issued a stay and sent his case back to a lower court to consider whether, with his severe medical problems, lethal injection would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Bucklew was sentenced to death in 1997 for the kidnap and rape of his former girlfriend, Stephanie Pruitt, and the murder of Pruitt’s partner, Michael Sanders, one year earlier.

It’s expected the Court will take up Bucklew’s case next fall.

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