Russell Bucklew executed for 1996 crimes

Updated: Oct. 1, 2019 at 6:55 PM CDT
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BONNE TERRE, Mo. (KFVS) - Russell Bucklew was executed at 6:23 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2019.

At 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Bucklew ate his last meal. According to the Department of Corrections, it included a gyro sandwich, a smoked brisket sandwich, two orders of french fries, a cola and a banana split.

Former Cape Girardeau County Sheriff John Jordan witnessed the execution.

He did not take questions, but did make a brief statement after the sentence was carried out.

“No man should ever take pleasure in another man’s demise,” he said. “Ronald Reagan once said something to the effect that ‘We must reject the idea that every time a law is broken, that society is guilty rather than the law breaker. We must restore the idea that individuals be held accountable for their actions.' Russell Bucklew has been held accountable for his actions. He denied life to Michael Sanders with deliberate indifference and now he has paid for that crime with his own life. May God grant him the mercy he denied his victims.”

Missouri Governor Mike Parson denied clemency in Bucklew’s case, according to officials with the governor’s office.

Bucklew’s attorneys released a statement following the governor’s decision:

We are very disappointed in Governor Parson’s decision to move forward with the execution of Russell Bucklew. Through countless ways, Mr. Bucklew has demonstrated that he is worthy of mercy, as shown through his countless acts of kindness, generosity and friendship over the years. He is deeply grateful for those who have supported him and fought for him, and he is grateful for those who have heard and accepted his words of remorse. Because of his rare and severe medical condition, Mr. Bucklew faces very significant risks during the execution today. He has blood-filled tumors in his head and throat that often hemorrhage, and he is able to breathe only with the help of a tracheostomy tube. He is terminally ill, and the State accomplishes nothing by executing him. In fact, executing him only causes further harm, and diminishes all of us as a society. It is not too late – Governor Parsons has the ability and the power to change his mind. We hope and pray that he does.

According to court documents, Bucklew received multiple orders for a stay of execution since the Circuit Court of Boone County found him guilty of first-degree murder and fixing his punishment at death.

That was in 1997, for a murder in 1996.

Bucklew’s attorney previously argued that his rare medical condition that weakens his blood vessels could cause him undue suffering.

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday, April 1 that Missouri can execute an inmate with a rare medical condition that will result in severe pain if he is given death-causing drugs.

On Thursday, advocates delivered more than 57,000 petition signatures asking Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to stop the execution of a convicted killer with a rare medical condition.

The family of Stephanie Pruitt wasn’t at the execution, but former Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle did attend.

Swingle said he made a promise to Stephanie Pruitt to go with her, and now he’s going for her. She died in 2009.

He shared a picture of Pruitt with us.

This photo shows the scar on Stephanie Pruitt's face where Russell Bucklew cut her with a...
This photo shows the scar on Stephanie Pruitt's face where Russell Bucklew cut her with a knife. (Source: Morley Swingle, former Cape Girardeau Co. Prosecuting Attorney)(Morley Swingle)

It showed a scar on Pruitt’s face where Bucklew cut her with a knife. Swingle said Pruitt told him she wanted her face to be the last thing Bucklew saw before his sentence was carried out.

Bucklew was the first inmate to be executed in Missouri since 2017.

There are about two dozen other inmates in Missouri on deathrow awaiting execution.

We talked to the family of Stephanie Pruitt, who died in 2009 at the age of 34.

They say Stephanie lives on in their hearts, thoughts and souls. They described her as a single mom who faced life’s struggles head on.

The mother of three loved to garden, and decorate with angels.

There’s now an angel watching over her final resting place.

In March 1996, Bucklew went to the home of Michael Sanders. He knew his former girlfriend, Stephanie Ray Pruitt, was staying there.

Bucklew shot and killed Sanders in front of his children.

He then pistol whipped Pruitt, raped her and left.

A detective on the Sanders case recalled what he saw that night.

Troopers eventually caught up with Bucklew as he entered St. Louis. A shootout happened and Bucklew took a bullet to the head.

Even after that, Bucklew broke out of the Cape Girardeau jail in a garbage bag. He then hid in a pantry and attacked Pruitt’s mother and her mother’s boyfriend with a hammer.

He eventually ended up back in custody and was sentenced to 95 years in prison, as well as the death penalty.

He later gave a video taped confession and admitted to the whole thing.

On June 16, 1997, Bucklew’s notice of appeal from his initial conviction was filed and one year later on May 26, 1998 the court affirmed conviction and sentence.

That same year on on August 25 the court overruled Bucklew’s motion for a rehearing and set his date of execution for December 4, 1998.

Court documents state on November 20, 1998 Bucklew’s execution was stayed while he sought relief in various state and federal courts.

In the following years, on February 18, 2000, Bucklew’s notice of appeal from the judgment overruling his post-conviction relief motion was filed and on January 31, 2001 the affirmed the overruling of Bucklew’s post-conviction motion.

On March 20, 2001 the court overruled Bucklew’s motion for a rehearing of that decision, according to court documents.

Twelve years later on October 7, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States then denied Bucklew’s petition for writ of certiorari with respect to his federal claims.

The next year on April 9, court documents said the court set a new execution date for Bucklew’s for May 21, 2014.

On that day, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a stay of execution, which later expired.

Three years later on November 21, 2017, the court set a third date for Bucklew’s date of execution for March 20, 2018 for which the Supreme Court again issued a stay of execution, court documents said.

On April 1, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States issued an opinion, and the stay of execution expired.

Documents said around one month later on May 3, 2019, the state filed a motion to set execution date to which Bucklew filed a response on June 3, 2019.

The Supreme Court of Missouri issued a warrant of execution for Bucklew on June 25, 2019.

Lethal injection became an option for inmates in 1987.

Currently, in Missouri, there are about two dozen people on death row, all men.

It will be the first execution for Gov. Mike Parson.

Former Gov. Eric Greitens oversaw one execution during his tenure in Jefferson City.

Morley Swingle, who prosecuted Bucklew, said it appeared Bucklew’s only chance of avoiding the death penalty was to be granted clemency by Governor Parson.

It would have granted a pardon, and there are three types.

The first is a full pardon, which restores all rights of citizenship among other things.

The second is a partial pardon, which can provide some limited relief and take a variety of forms.

The last type of clemency is a commutation of sentence. This applies to someone serving time in a correctional facility.

The governor is the only person who can grant clemency.

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