JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday announced he had declined to halt the execution of Russell Bucklew, who was convicted of first-degree murder in 1997 following a rampage that ended in St. Louis County.
"Governor Parson has declined to grant clemency in this case," Kelli Jones, spokeswoman for Parson, said in a brief email Tuesday morning.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections said the execution was moving forward as planned at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Bucklew is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection with a dose of Pentobarbital.
Laurence Komp, one of Bucklew's attorneys, said the legal team told Bucklew of the clemency denial Tuesday morning by phone.
"We conveyed the information and told him that we supported him," Komp said. "He thanked us and said he needed some time. And we gave him that time."
Komp said asking the governor for clemency was the legal team's last maneuver.
"This was it," Komp said. On Bucklew's reaction, he said, "It's a hard thing when you strip away all hope."
Parson did not disclose his reasoning for not granting clemency. Parson's office had previously said he supports capital punishment, but that staff attorneys would examine Bucklew's request.
Bucklew's attorneys met with Parson's staff last week in his Capitol office.
The meeting came days after his legal team submitted a 24-page petition asking for commutation of Bucklew's death sentence to life in prison.
His attorneys said moving forward with the death sentence by lethal injection would present “incredible risks” because of Bucklew’s medical condition, cavernous hemangioma, which causes weakened and malformed blood vessels, and tumors in his nose and throat could rupture and bleed.
They also argued he had changed in the 23 years since his crime spree, and was worthy of the governor's mercy.
Bucklew was convicted of first-degree murder in 1997 after he shot and killed Michael Sanders, 27, at his mobile home in Cape Girardeau County. Bucklew’s ex-girlfriend had been staying with Sanders, and Bucklew kidnapped the ex-girlfriend, raped her, drove to St. Louis, and then shot at police before he was arrested in Town and Country.
Bucklew's attorneys argued in their clemency petition that at trial, prosecutors unfairly painted Bucklew as an "unrepentant sociopath" worthy of the death penalty.
“Russell Bucklew is a man of profound Christian faith, a loyal and true friend, a caring son, and a man repentant for his crimes,” his attorneys said. “Mr. Bucklew’s life the past 23 years rebuts the very basis the state invited the jury to recommend death — that he was an unrepentant sociopath that would forever pose an ongoing threat to guards and inmates.”
Komp said Tuesday "it goes without saying that we're disappointed" when asked his reaction to Parson's decision.
Bucklew was "an excellent candidate for clemency," he said.
Bucklew's execution was delayed numerous times in the 22 years since his conviction.
But, in April, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against Bucklew’s bid to halt his execution.
“The Eighth Amendment has never been understood to guarantee a condemned inmate a painless death,” Justice Neil Gorsuch said. “That’s a luxury not guaranteed to many people, including most victims of capital crimes.”
This is the first execution scheduled during Parson’s term as governor. As a state senator in 2016, Parson spoke against a measure that would have abolished the death penalty.
He said death penalty opponents need to remember the victims of violent crimes when they consider abolishing capital punishment.
“I think it was mainly a one-sided debate,” said Parson, a former Polk County sheriff. “There are cold-blooded killers out there.”
“When you spend a career trying to protect innocent people, the last thing you want to do is hurt an innocent person,” he said.
In signing an anti-abortion law in May, Parson declared that “all life has value and is worth protecting” — giving death-penalty opponents hope that he would spare the lives of those sitting on death row.