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Rare execution stay shows Supreme Court concern on death penalty

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court seemed to share some other people's second thoughts when it stopped the planned execution this week of a Missouri death row inmate.

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By granting a last-ditch plea Wednesday night, justices at a minimum provided Russell Bucklew with another opportunity to argue against lethal injection. His case may be a peculiar one unique to his medical condition.

More broadly, though, the high court's unusual decision marked one of the few times that justices have stayed an execution, and it hinted at the possibility that the court is joining others in intensifying scrutiny of the death penalty.

"We want the states to get it right," Richard Dieter, the executive director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, said Thursday, "and now the states have a bit more of a burden to show they're getting it right, given what's happened in some cases."

Bucklew, who has a health condition that could complicate lethal injection, succeeded — for the moment — where most fail.

Twenty-two other death row inmates have asked the Supreme Court to stay their executions since the court's term began last October, a McClatchy review shows. The court, while sometimes divided, rejected all those requests. Last term, 31 death row inmates sought Supreme Court stays of execution. None succeeded, McClatchy found.

The Justice Department may also be paying closer attention to state-sponsored death.

Responding to a gruesome execution April 29 in Oklahoma, when inmate Clayton Lockett took 43 minutes to die, President Barack Obama ordered Attorney General Eric Holder to analyze U.S. execution practices.

Rare execution stay shows Supreme Court concern on death penalty 05/22/14 [Last modified: Thursday, May 22, 2014 10:22pm]

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