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Missouri set to execute inmate who has rare health defect

By Kevin Murphy

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - Missouri is set to execute early Wednesday a convicted killer whose lawyers have said has a rare health condition that could lead to extreme pain and suffocation during a lethal injection.

Russell Bucklew, 46, would be the first U.S. inmate executed since the botched April 29 execution of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett, who writhed in apparent pain after what prison officials said was a ruptured vein that prevented the lethal cocktail of chemicals from being delivered properly.

Lockett, a convicted murderer, died of a heart attack 43 minutes after the injection started.

Bucklew was convicted of the 1996 murder of Michael Sanders in southeast Missouri, and the kidnapping and rape of Stephanie Ray, an ex-girlfriend who had been seeing Sanders. He is scheduled to die early Wednesday at a Missouri state prison.

Lawyers for Bucklew are seeking a stay of his execution, arguing that malformed blood vessels in Bucklew's head and neck could rupture under stress, causing the lethal drugs to circulate improperly and cause him undue suffering.

Attorney Cheryl Pilate also has asked the courts to require the execution to be videotaped to preserve any evidence should Bucklew's death be prolonged and excruciating or if he chokes and suffocates.

U.S. District Court Judge Beth Phillips on Monday denied the stay and the request to have his execution videotaped. Phillips ruled there was insufficient evidence to suggest Bucklew would suffer severe and needless pain.

Bucklew's lawyers have appealed that ruling.

Missouri's correction department said in court papers that Bucklew's condition dates back many years and he did not have to wait until days before his execution to raise the issue.

He has had surgery while under anesthesia and there is no reason to believe anesthesia won't be effective prior to administering the lethal drugs, the department said.

The department also has opposed the videotaping of the execution, saying that allowing it "could lead us back to the days of executions as public spectacles."

If the execution is carried out, Bucklew would be the fifth person put to death by Missouri in 2014 and the 21st person executed in the United States, including Lockett.

(Reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City; Editing by David Bailey and Eric Walsh)

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