Missouri's most prolific serial killer, the state itself, plans to take another life Oct. 1.
Rusty Bucklew would become the 89th person executed in Missouri since 1989. Whether committed by the individual or state, all murders are I believe, immoral and unacceptable.
Even if you don't concur, there are several other reasons to urge Gov. Mike Parson to exercise mercy, halt the execution and commute his sentence.
Bucklew suffers from a rare congenital disease, which could lead to a torturous and gruesome execution, potentially traumatizing prison workers and witnesses. He has consistently expressed remorse for his crimes, has been a model prisoner and was poorly represented by trial and post-conviction attorneys.
Bucklew committed reprehensible crimes. In March 1996, he followed Stephanie Ray, his ex-girlfriend, to the home of Michael Sanders, where she had moved near Cape Girardeau.
Bucklew shot and killed Sanders, while Sanders' young son watched in horror.
Bucklew fled, abducting Ray and raped her before he was caught. We condemn the violence he perpetrated, mourn the death of Sanders and extend condolences to the grieving loved ones.
Our society should have as top priorities providing emotional and material support for as long as is needed for crime victims like the son of Sanders and for Ray. Our state should also avoid swelling further the ranks of those grieving the loss of a loved one by ending executions.
There's no justification for the crimes Bucklew committed. There are factors worth knowing to better understand what led to his violence.
Whatever the case, none us want to be defined solely by our worst actions.
Indeed, Missouri should not as well be summarily shunned just because the state has executed the fifth most people nationally.
Bucklew's current attorneys earlier this month crafted a clemency application to Gov. Mike Parson urging his intervention. Among other points, the document contended his trial and post-conviction attorneys did a woefully inadequate job humanizing Bucklew for the jury so they would chose life over a death sentence.
They interviewed just a handful of witnesses, most prominently his parents with their sunny and superficial narrative of life in the Bucklew home (then) presented it to the jury as fact.
As a result, Russell's trial counsel accepted, and the jury inaccurately heard, that Russell was the black sheep of the family when, in reality, his challenges were shared by his (four) siblings and were the result of being raised in an often violent and chaotic environment.
The trial attorneys contracted with a Columbia psychiatrist who didn't conduct his own investigation, relying on the quaisi-mitigation conducted by the defense. Dr. Bruce Harry diagnosed Russell with a personality disorder called antisocial personality disorder, even though he lacked the data and records to support the diagnosis, the clemency application states.
Relying on Dr. Harry's testimony, the state (prosecutors) hijacked the diagnosis to argue that Russell was an unrepentant sociopath deserving of death.
Within the past year Dr. Harry has had a chance to review more of Bucklew's documents for the first time. He acknowledged making an incorrect diagnosis.
Among the most compelling documents to him was a note written to Ms. Ray just a few months after the crimes, which demonstrate remorse for his conduct, sentiments, consistent with what he was told by Bucklew.
Twenty-two years of prison records prove that the state's dire predictions of Russell¹s character were completely without merit, notes the petition.
He has received not a single serious disciplinary write-up. In fact, Russell earned the opportunity to live in the honor dorm a privilege afforded to offenders with a documented history of good behavior and positive institutional adjustment.
Bucklew suffers from cavernous hemangioma, an incurable and degenerative disease he's had since birth. According to the clemency application, the condition causes large clumps of weakened, malformed vessels to grow in his head, face, neck, and throat.
(These) unstable tumors.. are highly vulnerable to rupturing under stress or any rise in blood pressure. Indeed, the document reports, small ruptures occur on a near daily basis, which Russell deals with by keeping gauze and a biohazard bag constantly at hand or by spitting out blood.
The disease causes "constant facial pain and pressure, labored breathing, and impairment of his hearing and vision." The tumors in Russell's airway, including his grossly swollen uvula, have caused him to struggle to breathe.
Last summer, his current co-counsel Jeremy Weis recalls, medical personnel took Bucklew to a St. Louis hospital where he "coded." In a scene exemplifying the moral perversity of our time, a physician leapt over the gurney to save the life of this man with a court-imposed death sentence.
Weis says the doctor inserted a trachea tube, allowing him to breath. At least until he'd be executed, Weis says, a tube remains in place.
The application reports that the Department of Corrections has agreed to elevate Russell's head during the execution, but this precaution will have no impact on (his) ability to dispose of the blood that naturally pools in his mouth and throat.
This blood is likely to be spat out during the execution or, more painfully, result in Russell choking and struggling for breath all in full view of the witnesses. This execution is highly likely to be exceptionally painful, bloody and gruesome.
Trial attorneys also insufficiently presented to jurors the reality of Bucklew's disease and his opioid addiction to treat the pain. In the weeks prior to the crimes, the document reports, he lost a great amount of weight and his behavior became more erratic.
(He) bled from his facial orifices, including his eyes, because of the tumors. (And while) his tumors had indeed worsened, the effect of the prescription painkillers were largely causing his physical and emotional deterioration.
Please contact Gov. Parson by calling 573-751-3222 or email www.governor.mo.gov. Urge him to exercise mercy and spare his life.
Join Vigils for Life
• Jefferson City: Noon to 1 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 1, outside the Governor's Office, Second Floor, State Capitol
• Columbia: 5 to 6 p.m., Boone County Courthouse.
• Call 573-449-4585 for details and view https://youtu.be/U_iKX6zk-Jw.
Jeff Stack coordinates the Mid-MO Fellowship of Reconciliation.