A look at Missouri's next scheduled execution

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Associated Press

Posted on May 20, 2014 at 8:04 AM

Updated Tuesday, May 20 at 8:08 AM

ST. LOUIS (AP) — WHO IS BEING EXECUTED AND WHAT WAS THE CRIME?

Russell Bucklew, 46, stole a car, guns and handcuffs from his Jefferson City police officer brother in March 1996 and tracked down his ex-girlfriend, Stephanie Pruitt. He killed the man she was living with, Michael Sanders, at Sanders' mobile home in Cape Girardeau. He kidnapped Pruitt, drove to a remote area and raped her, then got into a shootout with a Missouri State trooper. He escaped jail and attacked Pruitt's mother with a hammer before he was finally jailed for good.

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WHAT IS MISSOURI'S EXECUTION METHOD?

Missouri uses a single-drug injection of the sedative pentobarbital. The state switched to pentobarbital late last year (it previously used a three-drug method). Missouri has executed six inmates with pentobarbital since November. Bucklew would be the seventh.

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WHAT IS THE KEY ISSUE IN THE MISSOURI CASE?

There are two and they are related. Like many states, Missouri refuses to name the supplier of its execution drug and will not say whether the drug has undergone quality testing. Attorneys for Bucklew and other death row inmates contend that if they don't know what's in the drug, who made it or where it was tested, it is impossible to know that inmates wouldn't be subjected to agonizing pain during executions that would violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Bucklew's attorneys also say he suffers from a rare congenital disease that causes weakened and malformed blood vessels, and that he bleeds frequently and has impaired circulation.

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HOW DOES MISSOURI DIFFER FROM OKLAHOMA?

Oklahoma has a three-drug lethal injection method that includes the drugs midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride — all potent drugs with potentially serious side effects. Midazolam is a short-acting sedative sometimes used to calm patients before medical procedures or before surgery involving general anesthesia. Vecuronium bromide is a muscle relaxant and used during some surgeries. Potassium chloride is used to treat potassium deficiency but is used in executions to stop the heart.

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WHAT WENT WRONG IN OKLAHOMA?

Inmate Clayton Lockett writhed on the gurney, gritted his teeth, lifted his head several times and moaned before dying of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after the start of his execution on April 29.

A doctor inside the death chamber reported Lockett's vein had collapsed and some of the lethal drugs were absorbed into his tissue or leaked out. The prison system director then called off the execution, but Lockett died about 10 minutes later. A state report showed Lockett had an intravenous tap placed at his groin because suitable veins couldn't be found elsewhere in his body.

Oklahoma has put executions on hold while an investigation is ongoing, but authorities have suggested the trouble started with Lockett's vein rather than the drugs. Many defense attorneys, meanwhile, say the incident bolsters calls for greater execution drug transparency.

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WHY HAVE STATES HAD TO SEEK DRUGS FROM NEW PROVIDERS?

Death penalty opponents have pressured drug manufacturers, many of them in Europe where capital punishment opposition is strong, to withhold sales of their products from U.S. prison and corrections agencies for use in the death penalty.

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