Long odds for Russell Bucklew, who will only live for a few more hours unless courts delay his execution

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Missouri is prepping to become the first state to execute someone in the weeks since Oklahoma’s grisly death chamber spectacle on April 29.

It was on that date that Oklahoma scheduled a double-execution but delayed the second one indefinitely after corrections officials bungled Clayton Lockett’s lethal injection such that it took him 45 minutes to die.

Russell Bucklew, a southeast Missouri man who was sentenced to death for the 1996 slaying of a man in Cape Girardeau, faces Missouri’s executioner at 12:01 a.m. Wedneday morning.

His lawyers filed a lawsuit earlier this month, but were unable to persuade a federal judge in Kansas City to halt the state-sanctioned killing. On Tuesday, Bucklew’s case went before the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. The 8th Circuit is among the most conservative appeals panels in the country, not one often given to stopping executions. Despite this, some judges there (particularly Kermit Bye) are increasingly skeptical of the secrecy and the means through which Missouri executes prisoners.

Bucklew’s case could go before the U.S. Supreme Court later tonight. Some justices there (particularly Sonya Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elana Kagan) also have misgivings about Missouri’s style of execution. But they make up a minority on the nine-member Supreme Court.

In short, Bucklew faces long odds to escape his midnight punishment. His lawyers warn that Missouri could stage the next scene for a botched execution, a possibility enhanced by a rare medical condition that Bucklew endures. Bucklew’s legal team worries that Missouri’s lethal injection protocol, which next to nobody knows anything about, could aggravate growths in his head and neck such that an execution would close his airways and cause him to suffocate to death. Short of they, they’re concerned that weak and malformed veins in his head and neck could stem the flow of fatal drugs, leading to a prolonged death.

Missouri officials don’t seem too concerned. All signs point to them pushing ahead with Bucklew’s execution, buttressed by the promise of secrecy.

One of Bucklew’s execution witnesses will be Joel Zivot, an Emory University anesthesiologist who has expressed concerns about the medical veracity of Missouri’s planned execution.

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