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Russell Earl Bucklew - Missouri Execution - Stayed
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Thread: Russell Earl Bucklew - Missouri Execution - Stayed

  1. #1
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    Russell Earl Bucklew - Missouri Execution - Stayed

    Russell Earl Bucklew

    Summary of Offense:

    Russell Bucklew apparently did not want to live apart from Stephanie Ray. The two had lived together in Cape Girardeau County until Ray decided to break up with Bucklew on Valentine’s Day 1996. Bucklew left their mobile home and went to live with his parents. On March 6, Bucklew returned to the trailer he had shared with Ray, found Michael Sanders, the victim in this case, there, concluded that Sanders and Ray were romantically involved, put a knife to Sanders’ throat and threatened to kill Sanders if Sanders ever came back to Ray’s trailer.

    Later that same evening, Bucklew returned to the trailer, found Ray alone, threatened her with a knife, cut her jaw, and punched her in the face before leaving. Ray reported all of this to the police. Bucklew called Ray at work the following day, March 7. He threatened her again and promised to kill her, Sanders, and her children if he saw her with Sanders again. Ray moved in with Sanders, fearing to return to her own home. Sometime during the night of March 20-21, Bucklew stole his nephew’s car, two of his brother’s pistols, two sets of his brother’s handcuffs, and a roll of duct tape. He left a note asking his family not to report his theft to the police.

    By the afternoon of March 21, Bucklew began surreptitiously following Ray as she left work and ran errands, ultimately discovering where she lived by following her to Sanders' trailer. Bucklew waited for some period of time before he knocked on Sanders' trailer door. One of Sanders' children opened the door. Sanders saw Bucklew through the window, escorted the children to a back bedroom and grabbed a shotgun. Bucklew entered the trailer with a pistol in each hand. Sanders came into the hallway carrying a shotgun. Bucklew yelled "get down" and without further warning began shooting at Sanders. Sanders fell, struck by two bullets, one of which entered his chest and tore through his lung. Sanders dropped the shotgun. It went off and blew a hole in the trailer wall. Bucklew aimed the gun at Sanders’ head but, when he saw Sander’s six-year-old son, Bucklew fired at the boy instead. The shot missed. Ray stepped between Bucklew and Sanders, who was holding his chest as he slumped against the wall. Bucklew invited Ray to drop to her knees. When she delayed, he struck her face with the pistol. He produced handcuffs, handcuffed her hands behind her back and dragged her to the car. The two drove away.

    During the journey that followed, Bucklew demanded sex. When all of the acts he demanded were not performed, Bucklew raped Ray in the back seat of the car. Resuming the journey, Bucklew drove north on Interstate 55. By this time law enforcement authorities had broadcast a description of the Bucklew car. Trooper James Hedrich saw the car, called for assistance, and began following Bucklew. They ultimately apprehended Bucklew after a gunfight in which both a trooper and Bucklew were wounded by gunshot. Michael Sanders bled to death from his wounds.

  2. #2
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Oct 2010
    Inmate Personal Information

    DOB: 05/16/68
    Race: White
    Gender: Male

    Crime and Trial Information

    * County of conviction: Boone (Cape
    * Number of counts: One
    * Race of Victim: White
    * Gender of Victim: Male
    * Date of crime: 03/21/1996
    * Date of Sentencing: 05/15/1997

    Legal Status

    Current Proceedings:
    Post certiorari


    John W. Simon
    Cheryl Pilate

    Court Opinions

    State v. Bucklew, 973 S.W.2d 83 (Mo. banc 1998), cert. denied, 525
    U.S. 1082 (1999); Bucklew v. State, 1999 WL 34791430 (Mo. Cir. Ct.
    Dec. 29, 1999); Bucklew v. State, 38 S.W.3d 395 (Mo. banc), cert.
    denied, 534 U.S. 964 (2001); Bucklew v. Luebbers, 436 F.3d 1010 (8th
    Cir. 2006), cert. denied, 549 U.S. 1079 (2006).

    Legal Issues

    On habeas appeal:
    1. whether counsel was ineffective for failing to call clinical psychologist during guilt phase;
    2. whether claim challenging admission of prior bad acts evidence of petitioner's assault against victim was cognizable on habeas review;
    3. whether counsel's decision during sentencing phase of capital murder trial not to call clinical
    psychologist was reasonable trial strategy;
    4. whether counsel was ineffective for failing to call five friends and family members to testify about
    petitioner's character during sentencing phase;
    5. whether counsel's failure investigate and present expert security testimony during sentencing phase of capital murder trial deprived petitioner of effective assistance of counsel; and
    6. whether prosecutor's improper comments (providing opinion that crime deserved death penalty)

  3. #3
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2010

    Penalty of Death gallery
    Photos of the people and events concerning the Michael Sanders murder and the Russell Bucklew trial.

    Michael Sanders with his sons John Michael, left, and Zach.

    Penalty of Death, Part 1: 15 years ago this week, Russell Bucklew ended the life of Michael Sanders, changed the lives of others forever

    If some of life's first memories are somehow sacred -- a mother's tender touch, a playful family pet, a pretty preschool teacher -- then the first recollection in the life of Zach Sanders is more akin to blasphemy.

    His first memory, from age 4, is neither sweet nor sentimental, nor an event he reflects on with any sense of dewy-eyed affection.

    The first thing Zach Sanders remembers is watching his father die.

    That day -- March 21, 1996 -- comes back to Zach all these years later in hazy hues and garbled sounds, a few out-of-focus mental snapshots and a shudder of the fear he felt.

    He remembers. It's there, through the prism of time.

    He and his older brother, John Michael, are in the living room.

    John Michael is playing Super Nintendo.

    The two little girls who had recently moved in with them, Cristin and Charley, are there, too.

    Zach's dad and his new friend, Stephanie, the girls' mother, are in the back bedroom.

    A knock.

    Unaware of what he's letting in, John Michael unlocks the door.

    That's when Russell Bucklew steps, uninvited, into their lives.

    His eyes. His voice. Quick. Hot.

    He's brought two guns with him.

    And rage.

    Zach has seen the man before, though he doesn't remember the earlier meeting, when the man held a knife to his father's throat.

    Now, seemingly from nowhere, Zach's dad appears.

    He shoves Zach and the other children down the hall and into the bedroom.

    There are shouts. Then shots. Then screams.

    Zach's father is down.

    Zach's father is bleeding.

    At some point, his brother grabs Zach -- "We've got to hide," he says -- and pulls him deep into a closet and into the tight confines of a toybox.

    They pull down the lid.

    The world goes black.

    That's where Zach's memories of that day go black as well.

    There is more that happens this day. Much more. The man who sent four bullets tearing through his father's flesh will hurt others.

    The man will take Stephanie with him, bound and bruised, where he will do unspeakable things to her throughout a tortuous night that will end with a shootout with police more than a hundred miles away.

    While his memory is still spotty, Zach has since come to know exactly what happened that day and those after.

    The man will be taken to jail, but the atrocities won't stop there. Somehow, the man will escape and continue his reign of terror for a harrowing two days.

    Later, the murder trial, where Zach's big brother, at 7 years old, takes the stand, points at the man and declares that he is the one who stole their dad from them.

    The man is sent to prison, sentenced to death.

    But in a way, this, too, is only the beginning. It kicks off years of nightmares, nagging questions and a maddening wait for justice.

    Not to mention what happened to Stephanie in the end, her life also cut short by gunfire, though that would be at the hands of another man, many years later.

    Today, Zach doesn't think about his father's death as often as he used to.

    He's made an effort to suppress those memories.

    Over the years, Zach has suffered through nights of fitful sleep, bad dreams and occasionally has awakened, crying.

    He doesn't dwell on it.

    It's not his way.

    Today, now 19, he brushes those thoughts aside.

    It's in the past, he tells himself.

    But when he does allow himself to think about that day, he thinks of it in simple terms.

    It was the day Russell Bucklew killed his dad.

    Russell Bucklew's murder of Michael Sanders and the abduction of Stephanie Pruitt have been described in law enforcement circles as among the worst Cape Girardeau County crimes in decades, behind only serial killer Timothy Krajcir or perhaps the 1992 triple murder of the Scheper family.

    After 20 years of putting criminals in prison, Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle still calls Bucklew "one of the the most evil men I ever prosecuted" and at trial likened him to a "homicidal Energizer bunny."

    Sheriff John Jordan was deeply involved in the investigation of the Sanders murder. He also orchestrated the massive manhunt to capture Bucklew when he escaped from the county jail three months later.

    During a recent interview, Jordan didn't mince words: He called Bucklew an animal.

    "He was a bad character," Jordan said. "He had such a blatant disregard for human life, a blatant disregard for authority. He just doesn't care. He's going to do what he wants to do. He's going to kill Michael in front of his children. He's going to torment Stephanie. He's going to capture her, rape her. It was a very heinous crime."

    Both seasoned law enforcement officials have seen many heinous crimes. But nothing quite like this one. Nothing quite like the man who committed it.

    Both Jordan and Swingle expressed frustration that Bucklew is still alive, 14 years after a judge sentenced him to die. For much of that time, Bucklew has been housed at the Missouri Department of Corrections' Potosi facility.

    There, along with the other 46 other capital punishment offenders, Bucklew has access to television. He is periodically allowed to go outside. Occasionally he is allowed visits from family.

    "It's an appropriate punishment," Jordan said of the death penalty. "The only thing that would have been more fitting was if he had been put to death years ago, as far as I'm concerned."

    All of the appeals are exhausted. Technically, Bucklew is among the next two or three men who could be put to death.

    But it's more complicated than that.

    In 2007 Jay Nixon, who was then the state's attorney general, requested an execution date for Bucklew.

    That request to the Missouri Supreme Court came four days after a federal appeals court resumed executions in Missouri. With just one exception, the state's executions had been put on hold since 2006 based on concerns about the lethal injection procedure.

    One man was put to death in May 2009, after the state developed written protocols that were upheld by a federal judge. But executions were again put on hold while a federal appeals court reviewed those procedures.

    In June, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal, essentially clearing the way to resume executions.

    Missouri's most recent execution was in February, when Martin Link was put to death for killing and raping an 11-year-old St. Louis girl. That was the state's first execution in nearly two years. It followed the January decision of Jay Nixon, now governor, to commute the sentence of Richard Clay, who was set to die for a 1994 murder-for-hire plot.

    The Missouri Supreme Court has set no other execution dates.

    But even if it did, the state may not be able to carry them out.

    Sodium thiopental is an anesthetic used to put an inmate to sleep before administering lethal drugs.

    The only manufacturer of the drug in the U.S. is not currently producing it, which has halted executions across the country due to dwindling supplies.

    For now, Bucklew lives.

    If only I hadn't unlocked the door.

    John Michael Sanders has thought that many times since that day. Maybe a million.

    Rationally, he knows it was not his fault. He was only 6.

    When someone knocks on a door, you say "come in."

    If the door is locked, you unlock it.

    That's the way the world works. Isn't it?

    "I blamed myself," John Michael said recently, now a young man living in Rolla, Mo., half a state away. "I remember being at my Grandma's kitchen table talking about it. If I hadn't done that, he'd probably still be alive."

    The thought has gnawed at him over the years. He replays it in his mind. Picks at it like a scab.

    "Don't do it," he tells his younger self.

    Again and again, John Michael does it.

    Unlocks the door. Lets in his father's killer.

    "That was probably the hardest thing to deal with," said John Michael, now 21 and told by everyone that he's the spitting image of his dad.

    "I know now it wasn't my fault," he said. "I was a kid. But back then, I thought if I hadn't unlocked the door, he wouldn't have been able to kick it open. But I did."

    He considers the scenarios.

    One where he doesn't unlock the door.

    One where his father lives.

    "There could have been a different ending," John Michael says, his voice growing distant.

    But that's not how it happened. The past can't be undone.

    "There was nothing I could do to prevent it," he said. "He came there with an intent to harm. And he made sure that's what he did."

    And unlike his little brother, Zach, John Michael remembers it all.

    He remembers Bucklew coming in, kicking the door in after it was unlocked.

    He remembers his dad getting his gun. Telling the children to get back in the bedroom.

    He remembers his dad going out to confront Bucklew. To protect his family from an intruder.

    He remembers sitting on the bed in the room his father had sent him to.

    Then he heard the shots.

    It was only later that John Michael learned exactly how the bullets ravaged his father's body.

    The first shot went into the front part of his dad's chest, piercing a rib and going through a lung before exiting in the middle of his back.

    The second shot went in his father's buttocks, presumably as he fell, traveling sideways before it left near his sternum.

    The third shot went in near the elbow, traveled through his arm and came out through the meaty portion of his forearm.

    The fourth shot went in his right leg near the calf -- right below the knee -- before tearing out through the other side.

    All four shots passed entirely through his father's body, leaving no bullets inside.

    While Bucklew was handcuffing Stephanie and dragging her out to his car, the girls, Charley and Cristin, had left the bedroom to see what was happening to their mother.

    John Michael thinks of his little brother.

    "We've got to hide!" he yells at him.

    He grabs him and the brothers hide in a toybox. As John pulls the lid down, he hears a car pull away outside.

    After a time, John Michael and Zach crawl out of the toybox.

    John Michael remembers rushing to his father. He sees him, half in the spare bedroom, half in the hallway. Motionless.

    There's so much blood.

    That image, his father lying in the hallway, dying, is the one that will haunt John Michael for years, the one that his mind still conjures up from time to time.

    John Michael goes to his father.

    John Michael is crying.

    His father is still alive. He is looking at John Michael.

    "Are you all right, Dad? Are you all right?"

    His father struggles to talk, to say something to his son.

    Perhaps he wants to tell him it will be OK. He will be OK.

    Maybe he wants to tell his son he loves him.

    In the end, Mike Sanders says nothing.

    In the end, he simply fades.

    It's 10:30 a.m. March 25, 1996.

    Four days have passed since Mike Sanders died.

    Stephanie Pruitt is back where it happened, a trailer that's tucked away in Hickory Hollow trailer park on County Road 318, just off Route K midway between Cape Girardeau and Gordonville.

    Stephanie, all of 21 years old on this day, is wearing jeans and a white T-shirt, her blond hair pulled into a ponytail.

    She constantly drags on a cigarette, holding it with shaky fingers.

    They're asking her about Bucklew, a man she knew as Rusty.

    A dark ring of swelling circles her left eye, more of Rusty's handiwork. On top of everything else.

    Officers with the Cape Girardeau-Bollinger County Major Case Squad, the agency that investigates homicides, are looking for answers. They're videotaping the interview, which appears to make Stephanie even more uncomfortable.

    She's answering their questions as best she can.

    Many are met, however, with exasperated answers.

    "I don't know, I don't know," she says. "It just happened so fast."

    But she does know. She slows down. Takes a breath. Tries again.

    "Mike got to right here," she says, pointing to the door that leads to the hall, which opens into the bedrooms. "I seen Rusty. He had guns."

    Bucklew had more than guns. When he came to the mobile home that day to get Stephanie, whom he had dated for about a year until the relationship turned violent, Bucklew came armed for bear.

    In addition to the .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun and the .22-caliber revolver, Bucklew was equipped for a mission of madness. He brought extra ammunition, a holster for each of the guns that were strapped to his body, two knives, two sets of handcuffs, a pair of rubber gloves and a roll of silver duct tape.

    He brought those things into the Sanders home that day, though Stephanie wouldn't know it until later when he used some of them on her.

    The kids had been playing in the living room, while she and Mike talked in the back bedroom. A knock at the door. Stephanie heard John Michael say that there was someone here.

    Mike and Stephanie didn't know that John Michael was unlocking the door as they sat there. They had made sure it was locked, fearful that Rusty would come to call.

    So they got up, walked to the window in the kitchen and looked outside.

    "Oh my God, Stephanie," Mike said. "It's Rusty. Get the kids to the back bedroom."

    Mike looked at his new girlfriend, the one he was trying to protect from this madman. The one he had heard about.

    Stephanie's father had lent her a shotgun. Just in case. Mike didn't even really know how to use it. Had accidentally fired it in the backyard the week before when he tried to unload it.

    Mike told Stephanie to get the gun.

    Then he told her to stay back with the children.

    Mike, armed with the shotgun, went out to face his executioner.

    It's Stephanie's worst-case scenario: Rusty. Here. With guns.

    Rusty sees that Mike has a shotgun, which infuriates him.

    "I'll kill you, you son of a bitch!" Rusty yells.

    He opens fire on Mike, screaming words that makes no sense in light of what he's doing.

    "Get down! Get down! Get down!"

    Mike, mortally wounded, answers in the only way he knows how: "I'm cool, man. I'm down."

    Stephanie sees that Mike is trying to crawl.

    The girls come out of the back room. In tears.

    Stephanie reaches for them. But Rusty's eyes are on her.

    He gives her the same orders he's given Mike, telling her to get down, on her knees.

    The girls are following the whole time, terrified, crying for their mother.

    Stephanie doesn't understand. Or ignores the command.

    Bucklew will not be ignored.

    He takes the same gun he had just used on Mike Sanders and strikes Stephanie with it, the thick metal landing squarely on the orbital bone of her left eye.

    Stephanie's world swims out of focus.

    Without wanting to, she follows Rusty's orders and drops, face down, on the kitchen floor.

    She isn't quite unconscious. But she can't move, even if she wanted to.

    Rusty wastes no time. He's on her in a flash, pulling her arms behind her back.

    He tightens handcuffs around her wrists and jerks her to her feet.

    He's taking me, she thinks. Oh my God, he's taking me with him.

    And then: Oh, Michael. He's killed Michael.

    Rusty pulls Stephanie across the kitchen, through the door and out into the yard, past two cars and to a vehicle she doesn't recognize.

    She sees the neighbor lady, an older woman, standing on the porch of a nearby mobile home, staring on in horror. They don't know it, but the lady has already taken down a license plate number and is about to call the police.

    Rusty doesn't see her. Or pays her no mind.

    He has what he's come for. He has what he wants.


    He opens the driver's side door and shoves her into the car and over to the passenger's side.

    The girls follow them outside. Rusty yells at them to go back in.

    Stephanie doesn't know where they're going. She has no idea that the worst, for her, isn't behind her yet.

    As Bucklew starts the car and pulls out of the trailer park, headed for dark, dark places, Stephanie doesn't think she will live to see another sunset.


  4. #4
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Penalty of Death, Part 2: Bucklew abducts woman after murder, taking her on a nightmarish trip

    Stephanie Ray Pruitt's injuries are seen after being abducted by Russell Bucklew.
    (Photo courtesy prosecuting attorney's office)

    Shoot him!"

    Several Missouri State Highway Patrol cruisers circle a small, dark colored Honda along Interstate 270 in St. Louis. It's about 10 p.m., March 21, 1996.

    The cops know the driver is dangerous.

    He's apparently already killed a man, down in Cape Girardeau County, more than 100 miles south of here.

    The driver has already led them on a high-speed chase along Interstate 55.

    They saw him waving the gun at his hostage.

    And then at them.

    Guns are at the ready.

    The driver isn't coming in easy.

    May not come in alive.

    From inside the car, the driver waves his gun around again.

    He points it at his hostage, a blond woman who earlier today watched the driver kill her boyfriend.

    He points the gun at them again, whichever trooper catches his gaze.

    If something isn't done -- and quickly -- someone's going to get killed.

    A trooper named J.T. Hedrick yells at his colleague, a cop named Jon Parrish.

    "Shoot him!" Hedrick yells. "Shoot him or he'll shoot us!"

    Parrish takes a knee next to Hedrick's cruiser, behind the open driver's-side door, directly in front of the Honda, bumpers touching.

    Parrish is holding a shotgun.

    Parrish pops up from behind the door, surveys the scene and bounces back down.

    "I can't take a shot!" Parrish says. "I'll hit the hostage. I don't have a shot!"

    After a long moment, Hedrick pulls his sidearm from its holster, and charges the Honda.


    That's what Stephanie Pruitt went through on the last day of Mike Sanders' life. Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle can't think of another word to describe it.

    "In fact, those whole two weeks leading up to that were torture," Swingle said.

    Swingle speaks about Stephanie in admiring terms. He wonders how many people on this whole planet could have done as well as she did under even remotely similar circumstances.

    After the murder. In the interview rooms. On the witness stand.

    Reliving the nightmare. Again. And again. And again.

    "I was really impressed with how strong she was," Swingle said.

    Swingle got to know Stephanie well in the weeks that led up to Bucklew's trial.

    He came to learn, in great detail, what Bucklew did in that trailer and during those long twisted hours after.

    And how that wasn't even the first time Bucklew had attacked Stephanie.

    Swingle also discovered how Stephanie and Bucklew met, had come to live together and some of the details about when the relationship had first become violent.

    It was a story that would be laid out in court, during that weeklong trial in 1997.

    Stephanie first laid eyes on Russell Bucklew, Rusty to those who knew him well, in the summer of 1995, while she was still married to a man named Charlie Ray, the father of her children. Stephanie was still living with Ray on Frederick Street in Cape Girardeau when she met Rusty.

    Bucklew later told police he helped Stephanie out of a "bad marriage."

    It's not clear when or how the relationship between Stephanie and Rusty began. What is certain is that, by fall, Stephanie was divorced from Ray and she and Rusty were living with her mother on Cape Rock Drive.

    Things were OK between them for a time. Rusty helped out with the girls. He fed them, changed their diapers. Bought them toys. Stephanie trusted Rusty to take care of Cristen and Charley when she was out running errands or at work.

    For a time, they even called him Daddy.

    In a matter of months, Rusty asked Stephanie to marry him. They once visited a bridal shop together.

    Rusty sent her flowers, accompanied with the inscription: "To the three most important people in my life."

    Stephanie helped take care of Rusty, too. Rusty had been diagnosed as a child with hemangiomas, which are essentially small, ball-shaped masses of blood vessels under the skin. The condition caused tumors to appear in his sinus cavity and in the upper portion of his mouth.

    Rusty would complain about the pain and Stephanie would take him to the ER several times a week to get shots of Demerol.

    Rusty wasn't employed. They were basically living off Stephanie's mom, along with Stephanie's meager paycheck from Ceramo in Jackson, where she inspected clay flowerpots to make sure they weren't damaged. It was a place she would eventually come to know, and love, a man named Mike Sanders.

    In that fall of 1995, Rusty, Stephanie and the girls struck out on their own. They found a trailer in Cape Girardeau on Silver Springs Road.

    By Christmas, Stephanie was pregnant.

    Two months later, the relationship would be over.

    A month after that, Mike Sanders would be dead.

    It's been an hour since the murder. Stephanie is Rusty's captive.

    She isn't sure where they are. Or where they're going. Or where they have been.

    She watches from the passenger seat, with Rusty rambling, signs blurring past.




    Her head throbs from the smack Rusty gave her with the pistol. The smack that fractured her jaw would later require stitches.

    She can't think straight. The cuffs are still digging into her wrists, but at least now she's cuffed with her arms in front of her.

    Stay calm, she tells herself. Stay cool, or he'll kill you.

    At one point, Rusty laughs.

    "I know Michael is dead," he says. "I used hollow points."

    He adds: "I might have killed his kid, too."

    Rusty has already made her do things she will never be able to erase from her memory.

    As soon as they had pulled out of the trailer park where Mike died, Rusty forced Stephanie to give him oral sex.

    "Either do it or I'll kill you," he told her. "I'll break your neck."

    Now, after, Rusty is telling Stephanie that he has been watching her all day.

    That he knew she wouldn't meet him like she had promised. That she was lying.

    Rusty had followed her to pick up her check, then to her grandfather's. Rusty had watched from a distance as she worked in his backyard, the rise and fall of the ax she used to bust up the concrete to make way for a fence.

    Later, Rusty had followed her to Bottom Dollar Bobs. He sat in the Honda while she shopped for clothes for the children.

    He followed her to pick up her check. Later to Food Giant, where she had bought ham and milk.

    Then to the baby sitter's to pick up the girls.

    "Why didn't you do something then?" Stephanie says. "Why wait and do that in front of the kids?"

    Rusty tells her he wanted to catch her with Mike.

    And he had.

    Rusty had also followed her back to Mike's mobile home. Had seen Mike greet her in the yard with a kiss. He had watched as Stephanie gathered up the girls and the four of them had gone into the house.

    Rusty had decided then and there, he said, to go in and get her.

    Now, here they are. On this lonely stretch of gravel, somewhere west of Jackson.

    Rusty is pulling the car up to the edge of a dark, abandoned field.

    He pulls the Honda to a stop.

    "I'm going to have sex with you," Rusty says.

    Horrified, Stephanie resists, says "No you're not."

    Rusty puts the gun to her head. "Yeah, you are."

    She knows he's right. He has the gun. She knows he won't hesitate to use it.

    The fight leaves her.

    "Don't get stupid and I won't kill you."

    That's what Rusty tells her just before he rapes her.

    On Valentine's Day, Stephanie lost the baby. That was really the end of her relationship with Rusty.

    She'd had it with him not working, having to take care of him. She suspected he was making a big show out of the tumors in his mouth. She doubted they were as serious as he let on.

    Stephanie later testified in court that she told Rusty that it was over. That she broke up with him and drove him to Troy, Mo., and dropped him off at his parents' house. Rid of him, she thought.

    Rusty had a different version. He later told police that losing the baby had taken its toll on both of them. His medicine wasn't easing the pain and the alpha interferon, meant to shrink the tumors, wasn't doing its job either.

    The two of them, by Rusty's account, just decided they needed a few days apart. He admitted they had been fighting more, but nothing serious. Nothing that warranted ending it.

    It was a break, not a breakup.

    "She'd always been with me, side by side, and we was just in love with each other," he told police. "When we fought, it was just a few cross words and then we'd separate to cool off. Like anybody."

    Two days. Maybe three. At most.

    Sometime after Bucklew left for Troy, Stephanie's friendship with Mike, with whom she worked at Ceramo, deepened.

    They were friends at first, she said later. But they began spending more time together. Mike gave her guitar lessons. Whatever Mike and Stephanie were at that point, by the time Rusty returned from Troy, Mo., 15 days before the murder, he found Mike in his trailer. The one Rusty had shared with Stephanie.

    Their home.

    And he didn't like it. Not. One. Bit.

    Rusty walked into the trailer, along with toys for Stephanie's girls and a rose for Stephanie.

    Mike had left his guitar and amp at the trailer Rusty and Stephanie had shared and Mike had stopped by to get it. Stephanie had given Mike a key, told him to pick up his guitar on his way home.

    But when Rusty saw Mike in the trailer, he grabbed a kitchen knife and put it to Mike's throat.

    "You'd better get the hell out of my house or I'm going to kill you," Rusty said.

    Mike tried to explain that he and Stephanie worked together and were just friends.

    "OK, fine," Rusty said, pulling the knife away from Mike's neck. "Just don't ever come back."

    Mike left, but Rusty was going to get to the bottom of it. He had some serious questions for Stephanie. She had to come home sooner or later.

    Rusty sat down and began to wait.

    Interstate 55. Heading north.

    After he had raped her, Rusty did not put the handcuffs back on Stephanie. Now there is duct tape wound tightly around her wrists, binding her hands together. Throughout the drive, Rusty alternates between handcuffs and duct tape, seemingly without reason.

    Rusty is talking again. He has a gun in the hand he's not using to steer. The other gun rests in his lap.

    Stephanie considers grabbing that one. Decides not to.

    Rusty is pretty much talking nonstop. He speaks of his mother and father. He talks of the two of them starting over in Colorado. About how much he loves her.

    Rusty says he won't go back to jail like he had in 1988 for burglary. He refuses. He can't stand the thought of going to prison.

    He knows he will get the death penalty.

    And there's no glory in that.

    Stephanie knows about Rusty's blaze of glory line of thinking. Rusty had told her once he wanted the Bon Jovi song, "Blaze of Glory" played at his funeral.

    If he dies tonight, he tells her, it will be in a shootout with the cops. That would be a blaze of glory, in Rusty's eyes.

    And if he plans to die, he is going to take as many of those cops with him with him as he can.

    They're watching the towns fly by again.

    Old Appleton.


    Ste. Genevieve.

    Rusty notices they need gas. He pulls off at a 7-Eleven in Festus.

    He cuffs Stephanie to the steering wheel. He takes one gun with him and one is left lying on the driver's side floorboard. Just out of her reach.

    He gives Stephanie a warning: "If you scream, if you honk that horn, I'll shoot every son of a bitch in this place."

    She believes him.

    When he returns, he brings back cigarettes, a soda and two Tylenol for Stephanie. He steers back onto the interstate. Rusty tells Stephanie he has decided he is going to let her off at a hospital and he is going to run. He doesn't know where he is going -- he mentions Denver again -- but, wherever it is, he is going to get as far away from here as he can.

    That's when Rusty sees a police car pull from the median and fall in behind them.

    When Stephanie and her daughters got home from work, she was tired. She was glad they were alone. Desperate for rest.

    She and the girls were still at the mobile home on Silver Springs that they had shared with Rusty. Rusty, she believed, was still in Troy, Mo., with his parents.

    She closed the door behind her and heard a voice: "Hi, honey, how are you?"

    Rusty was behind the door, holding a butcher knife.

    He grabbed her collar, pulled her to the ground and dragged her through the house to the back bedroom.

    The two tussled before Rusty finally got her pinned to the bed.

    He put the knife to her throat. He cut her left cheek.

    Stephanie struggled. Somehow, she got up. Cursed him.

    Rusty decided to leave. But not before ...

    Rusty had once told Stephanie that only a punk would hit a woman.

    Now, he turned and punched Stephanie in the face.

    "Now I'm a punk," he said and left.

    Stephanie reported Rusty's punch to police, who photographed her injuries.

    She hoped it was over. It wasn't.

    She heard from Rusty the next day, while she was working at Ceramo. He called her on the phone.

    "I know you've been cheating on me," Rusty said. "If I ever see you around that guy again, I will kill you and the kids. I will cut them up in front of you."

    She contacted the police again. This time, she got an order of protection, ordering Rusty to stay away from them. Stephanie was scared. She knew she could not stay at that trailer on Silver Springs anymore.

    The first night, she stayed with her mother.

    The night after that, she moved in with Mike.

    Sometime between March 8 and March 21, she and Mike became boyfriend and girlfriend, and she decided to move in with him permanently. Mike was a stark contrast with Rusty. He was kind. He didn't have a violent bone in his body.

    At some point, she said, she and Mike had fallen in love.

    On March 14, a week before the murder, Stephanie returned to the trailer she had shared with Rusty. Perhaps she hoped it was the last time she'd have to go there.

    She was throwing some clothes in a box when Rusty came home.

    She was scared, but she had to go back to get some more of their things.

    This time, Rusty begged her to come back to him.

    She said she wouldn't. Not after what he had done.

    Rusty grabbed her, put her in a choke hold. Slammed her against a wall.

    She faded from consciousness.

    When she came to, she was tied to the bed with a dog chain.

    He had cut her shirt off. He tried to gag her, but she got loose. She ran for the door. Made it outside to the neighbor's trailer.

    Rusty jumped her. Stephanie fought back. She head-butted him. He showed her that he had a butcher knife.

    Stephanie fell, hit her head on some concrete.

    She faded from consciousness again. When she came to, she was back on the bed.

    Rusty was calm.

    "I didn't want to hurt you," Rusty said softly. "I didn't want to hit you. I promise I'm not going to hit you anymore."

    Stephanie was going to try something different. She would tell him whatever she needed to get out of here.

    She told him she did want to be with him. She had missed him. She convinced him that she would meet him Thursday.

    "I don't care that you hit me," she told him.

    She just had to get her things from Mike's house. Go see her mother. Tie up a few loose ends.

    "I'll meet you Thursday and we can be together," she promised.

    Bucklew made a promise of his own.

    "If you don't meet me Thursday, I'll come back with a vengeance," Rusty said.

    Missouri State Highway Patrolman J.T. Hedrick is keeping his eyes out for a killer.

    He is sitting in the median on Interstate 55. He had just pulled his cruiser into position a few minutes before. Only about four cars have gone by.

    The broadcast had come over the radio about 10 p.m. to be on the lookout for a dark-colored Honda.

    The driver is dangerous. He is wanted for a murder that had happened earlier in the day down in Cape Girardeau County, about 75 miles or so south of Hedrick's Jefferson County zone.

    The guy, Russell Bucklew, apparently has a female hostage.

    Hedrick is barely settled in, had just put the cruiser in park less than a minute ago, when he sees the Honda.

    And the plates are a match. Or close.

    He pulls the cruiser into drive and falls in behind the Honda.

    Hedrick radios to dispatch that he is behind a vehicle with a matching description for the murder suspect.

    Hedrick keeps the cruiser back, about a quarter mile. He's watching.

    As they pass under the mile marker 181 overpass, two other unmarked patrol cars move in front of Hedrick, just behind the Honda.

    Now there are three patrol cars directly behind the Honda. Other fully marked patrol cars are moving in position on the shoulder of northbound 55. Hedrick is directed to move his vehicle to the left side of the Honda as another pulls along the right.

    A rolling roadblock. Block the vehicle in, decrease speed, get the car to stop.

    But it doesn't work. A Suburban inadvertently gets between the cars.

    He thinks he's the target, Hedrick thinks of the Suburban's driver.

    Surprisingly, the Suburban stops directly in front of the Honda and the Honda is forced to a full stop, with highway patrol cruisers on either side.

    Hedrick hops out of his car. He approaches the back of the Honda near the trunk.

    He sees the driver hold up a revolver.

    He's pointing it at the hostage's head.

    Now, while still in the Honda, the driver waves the gun in all directions, at the girl, the cops, everyone.

    Hedrick finds cover.

    "Stop!" Hedrick yells. "Drop the gun and get out of the vehicle!"

    But the driver of the Suburban, perhaps sensing danger, speeds off, leaving the Honda an escape route. The Honda takes it.

    Hedrick hops back into the cruiser. He speeds up and pulls directly behind the Honda again. The other cruisers are behind Hedrick. The Honda pulls onto northbound Interstate 270.

    There are now at least 12 highway patrol cruisers in the mix.

    Hedrick is told over the radio to pull ahead of the Honda. Hedrick races past the Honda to its left. Hedrick is told to get in front of the Honda, decrease speed and they'd try another rolling roadblock on northbound 270.

    As he passes, Hedrick looks inside the Honda.

    The man is still holding the gun to the woman's head.

    Hedrick is told over the radio that tire deflators, or spike strips, have been laid down in two center lanes of the highway.

    "Try to keep the Honda in those lanes," Hedrick is told.

    The driver of the Honda tries to get off to the right on to the exit ramp. Hedrick and the Honda swerve toward each other, the cruiser keeping the Honda in the direct path of the spike strips. Another cruiser gets on the other side of the Honda. The Honda is heading right for the spikes.

    He sees the driver of the Honda point the gun at the trooper on the other side.

    He's going to shoot him, Hedrick thinks.

    That's when Hedrick puts an end to this.

    He accelerates, pulls in front of the Honda and slams on his brakes. The driver, this Bucklew, has no choice but to stop.

    Hedrick looks behind him. He's now in front of the Honda. Hedrick sees now that the driver is pointing the gun directly at him.

    Hedrick slides down in his seat. The driver moves the gun back to the woman's head. Then at another trooper, who has gotten out of another cruiser. Parrish.

    Hedrick opens his door and Parish jumps behind it for cover, kneels down.

    The driver keeps alternating the gun.

    One second, he's pointing the gun at the girl.

    The next at them.

    "Shoot him!" Hedrick yells to Parish. "He's going to shoot us if you don't!"

    "I can't take a shot," Parrish says. "I'll hit the hostage! I don't have a shot!"

    The engine of the Honda roars and the Honda slams into the front of Hedrick's cruiser, trying to push it out of the way. The driver is trying to create room for another escape.

    The collision knocks Parrish to the ground and jostles Hedrick from behind the wheel and he tumbles to the pavement.

    Hedrick is exposed. He sees the driver pointing the black semi-automatic gun directly at him.

    Hedrick raises his sidearm and almost instinctively fires two rounds into the Honda's windshield. He can see the driver's "blue, blue" eyes and sets his sights directly on them.

    Hedrick fires once more, leaps to his feet and charges the Honda.

    Hedrick sees flashes from inside the Honda. He sees smoke and glass exploding from the windshield.

    The driver is shooting at him.

    Hedrick breaks right, ducking and dodging. Hedrick returns fire, four shots.

    Hedrick jerks open the driver's side door, places his gun against the driver's head. He searches him for a weapon.

    The driver is slumped into the passenger's side and the weapon is no longer in view.

    Hedrick holsters his sidearm.


    It's over.

    The other patrolmen move in.

    Hedrick walks down the highway as he hears ambulances in the distance. He feels a sharp pain in his leg. Glass is piercing his skin.

    The driver is in custody. He doesn't know much about the man. His name, that he's accused of murder. He knows the man will go to jail. There's no doubt about that.

    And Bucklew does go to jail, where the plan is to try him for capital murder. The death penalty will be sought.

    In a perfect world, Bucklew would never be able to hurt anyone again.

    But the world is far from perfect. And a man obsessed is far from predictable. Unfortunately, the Cape Girardeau County Jail would not be able to hold Russell Bucklew for long.

    Next: The escape

  5. #5
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Penalty of Death, Part 3: Bucklew escapes from the county jail, massive police manhunt follows

    Law enforcement officials search for Russell Bucklew after he escaped from the Cape Girardeau County Jail in June 1996.

    It is the afternoon of June 19, 1996, and Deputy Richie Walker is on patrol.

    His eyes are darting as he cruises along State Highway 177 south of Egypt Mills, a small community in northern Cape Girardeau County.

    Walker is a cop on serious business.

    Walker is hunting a killer.

    One who had murdered a man a few months back right in front of the man's small children.

    One who had kidnapped a woman. Raped her. Held her hostage until it ended in a shootout with highway patrol troopers somewhere up in St. Louis.

    Except it hadn't ended.

    Two days ago, Russell Bucklew escaped from the Cape Girardeau County Jail.

    Bucklew had gone out with the trash. At least one other inmate had helped him.

    Not only had Bucklew somehow managed to escape, he had hurt more people.

    He had attacked two people less than an hour before. Stephanie Pruitt's mother and her mother's boyfriend. Bucklew had jumped out of a utility closet with a hammer in one hand and a knife in the other before attacking them both and fleeing.

    Stephen King-type stuff, one person had said.

    They were pretty sure Bucklew had been looking for Stephanie.

    Now, as Walker's vehicle approaches County Road 263, Walker sees a blue Chevy pickup with a camper. Heading his way. As the vehicles pass each other, Walker cranes his neck and the two men exchange wide-eyed stares.

    Walker knows immediately: It's him!

    Bucklew is driving the other car. The one that would turn out to be stolen.

    Walker wastes no time as the pickup accelerates, moving away quickly in Walker's rearview.

    Walker hits his lights, does a U-turn and sees the pickup is cresting a slight hill.

    For a moment, it disappears from view.

    As Walker tops the hill, he spots the truck.

    Walker notices the pickup's brake lights are on. The truck is stopped.

    The pickup had swerved onto a county road and pulled down a few feet and onto the road's right-hand side. Now it's sitting there, idling.

    Walker speeds his cruiser up to the truck, stops just short of it.

    He leaves a slight gap in between the two vehicles. He wants to use his car as cover. If it comes to that.

    As Walker pushes his door open, he sees Bucklew lunge out of the pickup.

    That's the word Walker will use twice in court: Lunge.

    Bucklew's momentum propels his slight frame toward Walker.

    Walker doesn't know if Bucklew's planning for fight or flight.

    Either way's fine with Walker.

    Walker does what cops are trained to do. He thinks fast.

    Walker grabs his shotgun. He works the chamber on the pump shotgun with trained fingers, sending a round scurrying into the chamber.

    Walker won't hesitate. He'll shoot him if he has to.

    "Get your hands up! Now!"

    A jail escape is every sheriff's worst nightmare.

    Just ask Cape Girardeau County Sheriff John Jordan. He'll tell you. He's lived it.

    On June 17, 1996, four days before the first official day of summer, Jordan had just filed for re-election. He had only been sheriff for two years, finishing out the unexpired term of Norm Copeland.

    Of course Jordan knew who the man in his jail was. In addition to being sheriff, Jordan was commander of the Cape Girardeau/Bollinger County Major Case Squad. Jordan had helped work the murder scene. He knew exactly what Russell Bucklew had done, how brutal Bucklew had shown himself to be.

    "You know, you deal with whatever this job gives you," Jordan said in a recent interview. "Some days are diamond. Some are stone."

    This one -- the day of Bucklew's escape -- was stone.

    Bucklew had been in the county jail in Jackson since he had been transported there two days after the St. Louis shootout in March.

    Bucklew had taken a bullet to the head, but he had survived. In the moment after being shot, Bucklew began to slump over in the car and had fired a bullet into Stephanie Pruitt's leg. Both injuries were relatively minor and only resulted in brief hospital stays.

    Bucklew was beginning to navigate his way through the judicial system toward trial. He was going to face charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping, burglary, rape and armed criminal action.

    A week after the murder, Bucklew made his first court appearance in Jackson, pushed in a wheelchair. He did not enter pleas to the charges, but circuit judge John Grimm declared Bucklew indigent and he was appointed a public defender. Another court appearance was scheduled for April 8 before Associate Circuit Judge Gary Kamp.

    On April 8, Bucklew had appeared in court with his attorney, Gary Robbins. Bucklew pleaded not guilty.

    A May 9 preliminary hearing date was set in Jackson. Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle told the media that he would wait to decide whether he would seek the death penalty until after that hearing. The judge ordered Bucklew to be held without bond.

    At the preliminary hearing, Bucklew was bound over for trial. After the hearing, Swingle still hadn't decided whether he would seek the death penalty.

    The next month, Jordan would get the call that every sheriff dreads.

    Lt. Michael Morgan, the jail administrator, had done a prisoner count at the end of the shift. He had done one earlier at the beginning of the shift, just as they always did. At the earlier count, every prisoner was accounted for.

    The second count had a different result. A horrifying one.

    They immediately called the sheriff.

    "Sheriff, we're short a man," he was told.

    A quick second check and the fears were confirmed.

    Russell Bucklew had escaped.

    Barb Pruitt has her daughter back. She's home.

    Her little girl is finally safe. Barbara and her ex-husband, Stephanie's father George Pruitt, had driven to St. Louis the day after Mike Sander's murder to pick her up. She was at a hospital, being treated for her injuries -- the rape, getting pistol whipped and ultimately the shot in her leg.

    After she entered the hospital room, Pruitt inspected her daughter's injuries. She saw the large gunshot wound that was in her daughter's leg. Stephanie had pulled back the dressing and shown them.

    Barbara Pruitt saw the bruises on her daughter's arms, her eye, her cheek. Not to mention the injuries that couldn't be seen.

    She'd also heard that Bucklew had been shot. He had been in the same hospital. His wounds did not concern her.

    Barb took her daughter to her home on East Cape Rock Drive in Cape Girardeau. She would stay there for a period. To heal.

    The phone rings.

    Barb picks it up and the last person she ever expected -- the last person she would ever want to talk to -- is on the other end of the line.

    The call is from Russell Bucklew.

    "Will you accept the charges?" the voice asks.

    Pruitt is in disbelief. She almost says no. She knows that Bucklew is supposedly still in the St. Louis hospital.

    For some reason, she says yes.

    Bucklew starts in right away.

    "Is Stephanie there? Is she all right?"

    She can't believe he would call her. Here. Collect.

    His voice is so cold, she thinks. I have never heard a voice like that in my entire life. There's absolutely no feeling in it.

    In court later, she would describe the conversation to a jury as brief, but intense.

    "Why did you do it?" she barks at him.

    "She shouldn't have cheated on me," Bucklew says.

    Ed Frenzel, left, talks to law enforcement officials after being attacked by Russell Bucklew. Bucklew was hiding in the home Frenzel shared with Barbara Pruitt, Stephanie Pruitt's mother.

    "You don't kill people for any reason," Pruitt says back.

    Bucklew: "I do. I did. And I will."

    Pruitt says something she would can never imagine telling another human being. "I want to watch you fry."

    "I want to watch you fry, too," Bucklew says.

    Breathing hard, Pruitt slams down the phone.

    His words will haunt her for days.

    They will scream their way back into her mind again three months later as Bucklew, amazingly, is back in her home, armed with a hammer and a knife, attacking her.

    I do. I did. And I will.

    Data log sheets from March 21 to June 17 tells at least part of the story of how Bucklew spent his days at the Cape Girardeau County Jail that spring of 1996.

    Most of the entries, based on hourly prisoner checks, seem routine.

    0900: The subject appears asleep.

    1100: Subject is reading a book. He appears calm and secure.

    1500: Subject is given his meds.

    There are a few entries that show Bucklew refusing a meal. Not unusual, considering the tumors in his mouth.

    On June 17, the day of the escape, the log at first shows more of the same.

    0900: Subject is in court until 0844.

    1100: Bucklew is talking to Lawson in his cell.

    1200: Eating lunch at a table.

    At 3 p.m., there's an interesting deviation. The log notes that Bucklew talked to Kenneth Stone.

    Stone was an inmate who had made headlines the month prior for holding a pillow over an Oriole, Mo., man's head and pulling the trigger while the man slept.

    The log doesn't note what the two murderers talked about.

    In the few hours leading up the escape, the log seems to switch back to the norm before taking a turn for the worse.

    1600: In bed, appears calm.

    1700: Given meds.

    1800: Subject is at cafeteria table, eating.

    The next log entry is scribbled, harder to read than the others. Perhaps put to paper more quickly than the others.

    "Subject missing. Not found for medication."

    An hour later, the writing more harried: "Subject still missing."

    An hour later: "Subject still missing."

    An hour later: "Subject still missing."

    Some surmise that Russell Bucklew planned the escape for weeks. While he was incarcerated, Bucklew lost weight. He dropped 15 pounds from an already thin 105 to a gaunt 90 pounds.

    Several of the log entries show that he refused to eat, causing some to suggest he was intentionally losing weight so he wouldn't burst the trash bag and get caught before he ever got out of the building.

    Bucklew's weight loss would have made at least some sense to jail administrators. He constantly complained of pain in his mouth from the tumors.

    Regardless of when he first hatched his plan, on June 17, he put it into action.

    With the help of a prison trustee named William Douglas Roth, Bucklew slid into a trash bag and had it tied over his head. Then, with the murderer tucked away inside, Roth carried the bag outside and tossed it into a 50-gallon trash can.

    A jail worker said later he noticed the trustee -- a prisoner given special duties because he is considered trustworthy -- struggling with the trash bag a bit. But he didn't think anything of it apparently. In fact, an unsuspecting officer watched as the trustee tossed the bag with Bucklew inside in with the other refuse.

    Bucklew waited in the Dumpster for a time. It is not known how long.

    But at some point, when he figured it was safe, he opened the lid, crawled out and fled.

    Bucklew was free.

    Barbara Pruitt and her boyfriend Ed Frenzel are waiting outside their home on Cape Rock Drive as a police officer performs a quick search.

    Making sure Bucklew isn't here.

    Her life has changed a lot in the past few days. She hasn't been able to sleep in her own bed.

    It's June 19, 1996, and the man who had made her daughter's life a living hell has escaped from jail. For almost two days, Barb and Ed have been staying at a hotel. Stephanie has been taken into protective custody, to make sure that Bucklew doesn't find her.

    On Monday, Barbara had been at her job at Procter & Gamble when a security worker had pulled her aside.

    "You're supposed to go home," she was told. "Ed's coming to get you. The police department just called. Russell Bucklew has escaped."

    Ed had picked her up and they had driven directly to the police station to see what was going on. They were told that Bucklew had escaped and Stephanie and the girls were safe in protective custody.

    It probably wouldn't be a good idea for them to go home, she was told, unless an officer did a search of the place first.

    They had rented a motel room and hadn't gone home.

    But today they decide to risk it, to pick up a few things. They only intend to stay a short while.

    The officer comes out, gives them the all clear.

    For an hour, their life has all the outward appearances of a normal one.

    The put food out for their dogs. They water a few of the trees in the backyard.

    Barb and Ed take a break. They sit in their living room. Barb has to be at work in a few hours, so she decides to take a nap.

    Why not? Everything seems to be all right.

    Still, she walks back to the back door to lock it. Just to be safe.

    She turns the lock. A large walk-in pantry, the door closed, is situated on her right.

    She turns to head back into the living room when it happens.

    The pantry door swings quickly open and hits her in the side, jolting her sideways.

    Seemingly in the same instant, she feels something hard, metallic, strikes her head.


    Something has hit her from inside the closet.

    Somehow, she knows.


    Barb slams her body against the utility closet door, trying to force it closed, to trap the intruder inside. She can feel him pushing hard on the other side, trying to free himself.

    "Ed!" she screams.

    She can't stop him. The pantry door flies open.

    Ed, who had been in the living room, flies to her rescue.

    Ed is here. She sees Bucklew's arm; he's holding something, going up and down. He's hitting Ed with something.

    Again and again.

    In his other hand, Bucklew is holding a knife.

    She sees blood on Ed's head, by his ear.

    Ed and Bucklew are pushing each other around, each trying to gain an advantage.

    Ed backs up, winded.

    "Get down, get down!" Bucklew screams. "You're going to die! Get down, get down. You're going to die!"

    The back door is right there. But Barb had locked it.

    Ed manages his way to the door, twists the lock and manages to back his way outside.

    "Get out of there, Barb!" Ed yells.

    Barb tries, but she's on the wrong side of the open door. It's pinning her against the wall.

    Bucklew angles his way in front of her. He's still got the knife and the hammer.

    Barb is too afraid to move.

    I do. I did. And I will.

    Bucklew curses Ed and says other things. She won't remember them later, when she's recounting the event to a jury.

    Something distracts Bucklew. He looks away. It's just for a second, but it gives Barb just enough time to maneuver her way around the open door and outside.

    Barb slams the door, trapping Bucklew inside the house.

    She takes a look back in through the door window. Bucklew is laying the knife and the hammer down and he disappears from view.

    She runs to a neighbor's. Ed is already there, banging on the door. But it's a weekday afternoon and nobody is home.

    Barb doesn't know what to do. Bucklew is in her home. The man who killed Mike. The man who had raped her daughter.

    Barb staggers to the front yard.

    She does the only thing she can think of.

    She screams.

    Cape Girardeau County Sheriff John Jordan employed an all-hands-on-deck approach in trying to find Bucklew.

    Bucklew broke out Monday night. On Tuesday morning, Jordan launched a massive manhunt, calling in the Missouri State Highway Patrol and law-enforcement personnel from Bollinger County, Cape Girardeau, Jackson, Madison County, the Missouri Department of Corrections and the Emergency Operations Center.

    An area hospital lent its helicopter to search from the sky and four bloodhounds tried to track his scent along Hubble Creek after a 19-year-old female veterinary assistant found his jail jumpsuit along the creek.

    The officers combed the area but came up empty. The helicopter pilot saw nothing and the dogs lost Bucklew's trail about three miles up Hubble Creek.

    "We were doing everything we knew to do," Jordan said during a recent interview. "But we were coming up with nothing."

    No extensive manhunt took place Wednesday. Officers were still looking and calls were coming in, but Jordan remained optimistic.

    "It's not over til it's over," he said at the time. "A murder charge is good forever. We will look for him until he is found."

    It turns out they didn't have to wait that long. A call came in to the department that some residents along East Cape Rock Drive had called in and reported some screaming at the home of Barb Pruitt.

    Jordan learned later that Bucklew had attacked Barb Pruitt and Ed Frenzel. Before that, he had apparently stolen a blue Chevy pickup from a home on County Road 616 while the owners were out of town.

    Bucklew had gone straight for Stephanie.

    Jordan learned later that, after the attack, Bucklew had gone out the back door of the Pruitt home, made his way back to the hidden pickup and fled.

    Bucklew got in the pickup and drove his car to Highway 177, where he was about to have a run-in with a deputy named Richie Walker.

    In law enforcement circles, they call it suicide by cop.

    In the months since Russell Bucklew killed Mike Sanders, he told anyone who listened he wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. That he wanted police to shoot him. That to die that way would be a blaze of glory.

    He told Stephanie that on their harrowing drive after the murder. He told other inmates that he wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. He told jail administrator Lt. Michael Morgan the same thing.

    "In my opinion, he has nothing to lose," Morgan said the day after Bucklew's escape. "Mr. Bucklew does not want to come back to jail. I've talked with Russell. He claims he wants to die. I really believe he is going to force us to shoot him."

    If that is truly what Bucklew wants, now is his chance.

    He has just lurched out of the pickup. Deputy Richie Walker is there, armed. He has just racked his shotgun.

    Bucklew did not fight. He froze.

    In the end, Bucklew simply threw up his hands.

    Walker put him on the ground, handcuffed him and brought him in.

    Without incident.

    Next: The aftermath


  6. #6
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Penalty of Death, Part 4: Sanders family copes with loss of loved one, endures long wait for justice

    The home of Jerry and Dorothy Sanders isn't exactly a shrine to their dead son, but mementos of Mike's life are everywhere.

    Photos line the walls throughout their small house, tucked away along a back country road in Scopus, Mo. They still keep Mike's black six-string. They have pages and pages of the songs he wrote.

    An intricate picture Mike drew of a mournful Christ, wearing that infamous crown of thorns, is among Dorothy's most cherished possessions. Ask Jerry, and he'll pull back his left sleeve and show you the dragon tattoo that Mike drew on his arm.

    Fifteen years after the murder of their son, these mementos provide mostly pleasant reminders. But reminders can be painful, too. They also remind the Sanders family of everything it has lost: a son, a father, a brother, a friend. A lifetime of memories that have been stolen.

    They have learned that sometimes it's not what's there, but what isn't.

    "There's an empty spot," Jerry said during a recent interview. "He shot my only son. That never goes away."

    The he, of course, refers to Russell Bucklew, the man responsible for Mike's death.

    For the last 15 years, Bucklew has spent much of his day confined to a 14-by-6 cell at a maximum-security prison in Potosi that's home to 800 other high-risk criminal offenders. He shares the cell with another offender and has access to an open sink and open toilet. Bucklew goes to work most days and is paid $7.50 a month, performing menial jobs such as the prison laundry or the kitchen.

    Despite those conditions, it infuriates most members of the Sanders family that Bucklew still lives.

    "The hardest thing is to go on every day that he's not here," Dorothy Sanders said of her son. "And to know that guy's sitting up there on death row, putting his feet on the floor, walking around. ... He still gets to see some of his family. We don't get to see Michael."

    Jerry Sanders shows off a dragon tattoo done by his son Michael.

    Jerry Sanders thinks Bucklew should have been put to death years ago. So does Mike's sister, Mindy, who lives with her parents in Scopus. Both of Sanders' sons, John Michael and Zach, agree.

    "I'm angry about it. Yeah, you bet," Jerry said. "It's gotten to where I deal with it easier, but to see him go would give me peace of mind. It would put me to rest. I really think it would."

    That Bucklew still lives bothers Dorothy Sanders, but she is conflicted about it. Dorothy Sanders is a strong Christian and she doesn't think that her faith allows her to want another human being dead.

    "I have more Jesus in me than Jerry," she said. "All I ever ask for was to put him behind bars so he couldn't hurt anybody again. I have no use for him. But hate? That's a hard thing to say. His judgment will come when he stands before God."

    The state of the death penalty in the U.S. is in disarray.

    Missouri has held 68 executions, the fifth most in the U.S., since it reinstated the death penalty in 1975. But one of the drugs used to carry out executions by lethal injection is no longer manufactured in the U.S. That has left prison officials scrambling.

    Michael Sanders' grave marker.

    "We're exploring all the options that are available to us," Missouri Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Cline said this week, though he would not elaborate what those options are.

    No execution dates are set in Missouri, he said. Missouri's supply of sodium thiopental, which puts the death row inmate in a comalike state of unconsciousness before the lethal drugs are administered, expired March 1, Cline said.

    Of the 34 states that allow the death penalty, 31 use sodium thiopental. In Texas, which has executed more death row inmates than any other state, prison officials announced last week they are switching from sodium thiopental to pentobarbital, a drug that is readily available in the U.S. There are 337 inmates on death row in Texas, while there are 47, including Bucklew, in Missouri.

    Russell E. Bucklew, 28, of Cape Girardeau, Mo., looks at his parents during a break in his murder trial Thursday April 3, 1997 at the Boone County Courthouse in Columbia, Mo.

    The attorneys general of 13 states, including Missouri, wrote a letter in January to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking for his help finding an approved source of the sodium thiopental or making supplies held by the federal government available to the other states.

    All this is occurring at a time as some states are looking at doing away with the death penalty entirely.

    Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn recently signed a law abolishing the death penalty in his state, commuting all death sentences there to life without parole. Before that happened, 14 states and the District of Columbia had already abolished the death penalty.

    Discussions have started in Missouri, too. Earlier this month, state Rep. Susan Carlson, D-St. Louis, filed a bill for Missouri to repeal its death penalty. The bill has 34 co-sponsors and the House has read it twice. But no hearings have been scheduled and many are skeptical about the bill's potential.

    None of it happened: The murder of Michael Sanders. The abduction of Stephanie Pruitt. The jail escape of the killer Russell Bucklew.

    Michael didn't die. He was never shot. Bucklew never came calling that day in March 1996, carrying two guns and a warped sense of vengeance.

    That's the dream that John Michael Sanders has from time to time.

    He doesn't dream -- not often, not anymore -- about the horrifying events that he watched unfold in that mobile home 15 years ago when he was 6.

    In his dreams, he envisions a much happier world where he was raised by his father, who got to watch John Michael and his brother Zachary grow up, graduate high school and begin long and happy lives for themselves.

    "I dream that because I guess there's a part of me that still wants to believe that," John Michael said recently, now 21 and living in Rolla, Mo.

    For a year after Mike died, John Michael and Zach lived with their grandparents in Scopus. Their mother had taken off years before and has never really resurfaced.

    "I don't know what it's like to have a real family," John Michael said. "I saw all of my friends that were real close with their moms and dads. I never got that feeling, so I always felt cheated."

    At first, the murder of his dad was all John Michael could think about. A year after the murder, John Michael had to take the stand to testify at Bucklew's trial.

    John Michael still remembers, at age 7, walking into the courtroom and telling a jury that the man sitting there was the man who shot his father. He saw Russell Bucklew for the first time since the murder and the sight of him made John Michael jump.

    "It pretty much flipped my world upside down," John Michael said. "Everything came back, just this big, dark cloud. All these feelings. Being scared, all of it. I had to sit in the same room with the guy who killed my dad."

    Shortly after the trial, John Michael and Zach went to live with their dad's sister Melissa Dotson in Bixby, Mo. Dotson's husband, Stanley, was their male role model and John Michael said he felt loved growing up.

    But he always knew something was missing.

    John Michael would sometimes go through his dad's old drawings and look at the songs he'd written. He just sits and think about his dad, trying to learn more about him, to feel closer to him.

    Some of what happened carried over into elementary school. There were a few fights over it. He was taunted about his dad being dead. John Michael learned the defense mechanism of humor. He would crack jokes in class about anything and everything, he said.

    There were days of depression, too, days where John Michael could barely bring himself to get out of bed.

    John Michael has taken some college classes. He's taking a break, but he's thinking about furthering his education at Missouri State University in Springfield.

    But what John Michael really wants to be is a rapper. He knows it sounds far-fetched, but he wants to make music like his dad did, even if it's a different kind of music. His dad loved heavy metal music like Iron Maiden and Megadeth. John Michael likes Eminem and Dr. Dre.

    He's even used some of the lyrics his father wrote as part of a rap song he wrote called "Beat of My Broken Heart."

    "It was cool to take something he had written and work in my stuff," he said. "I guess it helped me feel closer to him."

    Over the years, he thought about Russell Bucklew from time to time. He kept waiting to hear that they were going to execute the man who had executed his father.

    So far, that day hasn't come.

    "I would like to watch him die," John Michael said. "I guess it might give me some closure. Finally."

    John Michael also dreams of other things -- a family, perhaps, one day.

    "At this point, I'm in no hurry," he said. "I think one day I'll have a family. If not, it is what it is. For now, I just want to live my life. Whatever that means."

    Jake Ritter is Zach Sanders' best friend. They've known each other since kindergarten.

    Ritter has known about what happened to Zach's dad for a long time. He said most people know not to bring it up. They know Zach doesn't like to talk about it.

    Zach Sanders inside his Salem, Mo. home in February 2011.

    Zach still lives with his aunt, now in Salem, Mo. Ritter says Zach has been a great friend who has always been there for him.

    "If I didn't know what happened, you could never tell," Ritter said on a snowy day in February. "He's really just been like everyone else. He's headstrong. Very headstrong. But he's overcome just about any problem that he encounters."

    Zach admits to having gone through some tough times, starting with the death of his father. Zach has no memory of his life before that.

    He grew up like his brother, feeling like he missed out. But he always pushed thoughts of what happened out of his mind.

    "I've always tried not talking about it," he said. "I told Jake what happened, but I don't think we've ever really talked about it."

    Given what happened, Zach also thinks he's had a pretty good life. Not having a father may have affected his behavior somewhat growing up, though, he said. He's been told throughout his life that he has anger control problems. Sometimes, he admits, he still does.

    "I've had some bad spots," Zach said, sitting on the couch at his aunt's house. "It was real a real shadowy time."

    He doesn't want to go into much detail. For a time, early in high school, he dabbled in drugs, getting high before and after class.

    "I was just trying to be cool in front of other people," he said. "It may have had something to do with what happened to my dad. Hard to say."

    Thoughts about his dad haven't been nearly as frequent as people might think. He doesn't know why that is. He tries to live day by day, he said.

    In a strange way, he may have thought more about Bucklew than of his father. But when he thinks about Bucklew, he thinks about Bucklew getting executed.

    "I seen my dad get killed. I want to see him get killed," Zach said. "I see it as an eye for an eye."

    When asked to sum up his feelings for Bucklew, he said: "Straight-up animosity. Rage."

    Like John Michael, Zach wants to go to the execution. He feels he has a right to. But he doesn't think he would say anything to Bucklew, even if he had the chance.

    "I would look at him, smile and wave bye-bye as he died," Zach said. "I wouldn't have to say a word."

    Zach Sanders, for now, is moving on with his life. He has taken the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, and he has enlisted in the U.S. Army. He said he's just waiting for the call. He's been told he'll go to basic training at Fort Bening, Ga.

    He plans to make a life of the military. He knows going overseas to fight is a possibility. But he doesn't mind.

    The last thing Zach wants is to be defined by what happened 15 years ago. He's moving on.

    "It's life," he said. "You can't change nothing. What's done is done."

    But if Zach could tell his dad something, could talk to him somehow, he knows what he'd say: "I hope you're proud."

    Stephanie Ray Pruitt died June 8, 2009.

    Her husband, John A. Shuffit, pulled into the driveway of Stephanie's home in rural Perry County, had a brief conversation with her, before shooting her once in the chest. Shuffit then drove 10 miles away, onto a rural gravel road, and killed himself.

    Stephanie's obituary described her as an avid gardener and a devoted mother. It said she managed a restaurant and was of the Christian faith.

    She left behind three children: two daughters, Charley and Cristin Ray of Perryville; and a son, Michael Pruitt of Perryville.

    There is one thing Dorothy Sanders wants people to know about her son: He was a good father.

    Even after his wife left, he raised the boys alone. He loved their mother, even waited for two years after she left to get a divorce. But the boys always came first.

    Wherever he went, they were toddling along behind him. On Halloween, he sewed their homemade costumes together. He enrolled them in a Christian day care, where the workers marveled at the single father dropping them off and picking them up after work.

    "They came before everything," Dorothy said. "No matter where he was, he had them with him."

    Jerry and Dorothy Sanders handled the death of their son differently. Jerry wanted to find Bucklew and do to him what Bucklew had done to his son. Dorothy told Jerry to go outside and hit something. Jerry blamed himself. Dorothy tried not to.

    These days, after retirement, the days pass. Dorothy has her Tuesday night Bible study. Jerry likes to carve things out of wood.

    Dorothy comes to Cape Girardeau frequently. Sometimes she's with friends. They'll stop and visit someone else's son. That's hard for her.

    "It's hard to take," she said. "It's not easy."

    They both have regrets. They wish they had told Mike they loved him more often. They try to make it up to Mike by telling their other children and grandchildren.

    They think about the man who killed their son, but they try not to. They say that allows him to control their lives.

    The years have made it easier, almost tolerable. But it's never gone away, Dorothy said.

    "We're always living with it," Dorothy said. "You still want him to walk in the door. But I know that's not going to happen. It's just that he was taken away so young. That's what makes it so hard."


  7. #7
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    In today's United States Supreme Court orders, Bucklew's petition for writ of certiorari was DENIED.

    Appeals exhausted. Ruling could result in an execution date.
    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

  8. #8
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Three inmates’ attorneys argue against setting of their execution dates

    Attorneys for three men sentenced to be executed have presented their arguments to the Missouri Supreme Court why it shouldn’t set a date for their executions. The Court ordered those attorneys to prepare those arguments in Show Cause orders issued in each case, January 29. The State Attorney General’s Office has responded to two of them.

    Among the arguments attorneys for William Rousan, Russell Bucklew and Cecil Clayton separately make is that because their clients are plaintiffs in Zink v. Lombardi, ongoing federal litigation regarding Missouri’s lethal injection process, their executions should not proceed until that has been settled. To this point, the Attorney General’s Office argues legal precedent that federal litigation is not a reason not to set an execution date. Joseph Franklin, Allen Nicklasson and Herbert Smulls were also plaintiffs in Zink v. Lombardi when they were executed in November, December and January, respectively.

    Attorneys for Clayton argue that he is incompetent to understand his punishment due to a deteriorating mental state, in part because of a head injury 25 years before he fatally shot Berry County Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Castetter in November, 1996. That injury at a sawmill resulted in the removal of part of the right frontal lobe of his brain. The Attorney General’s Office’s response to the arguments of Clayton’s attorneys is due March 5.

    Attorneys for Bucklew, who in 1996 shot Michael Sanders, the presumed new boyfriend of his ex, say he suffers from malformed blood vessels that cause among other things, bleeding from his mouth and eyes, and could increase the risk of a painful or prolonged lethal injection. The state argues that doesn’t merit an indefinite delay in setting his execution date.

    Rousan also claims instructions given to the jury at his trial were confusing; an issue the state says the Court and federal courts have already dealt with. Rousan, his son and brother participated in the murder of a rural Bonne Terre couple as part of a cattle theft and robbery.

    Missouri is scheduled to carry out the execution by lethal injection of Michael Taylor early Wednesday morning. Taylor is one of two men sentenced to death after pleading guilty to the 1989 murder of 15-year-old Ann Harrison of Kansas City.

    On Friday the State Supreme Court set March 26 as the date for the execution of Jeffrey Ferguson for the 1989 abduction, rape and murder of 17-year-old Kelli Hall in St. Louis County.

    Both Ferguson and Taylor were among four men for whom the Supreme Court in December ordered attorneys to present arguments why their execution dates should not be set. The others of those four were Roderick Nunley and David Barnett. Nunley is the second man who plead guilty in the murder of Harrison. Barnett stabbed each of his grandparents more than 10 times at their Glendale home before stealing their car and $120 in cash.

    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

  9. #9
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Court sets execution date for killer convicted in Boone County

    The Missouri Supreme Court has ordered that a 45-year-old man on death row since 1997 after a Boone County jury convicted him of first-degree murder, rape and other charges will be executed May 21.

    Russell E. Bucklew was convicted in the 1996 shooting death of Michael Sanders in Cape Girardeau County. After he shot Sanders four times, he kidnapped and raped Sanders’ girlfriend, with whom Bucklew previously was in a relationship. The case was moved to Boone County on a change of venue because of the attention it received in southeast Missouri. Bucklew also was convicted of kidnapping, armed criminal action and first-degree burglary.

    Bucklew has fought for a stay in his execution to no avail. The U.S. Supreme Court denied his petition for writ of certiorari on Oct. 7.

    His attorney, John William Simon of St. Louis, said he will continue to fight for Bucklew.

    “I am working on this,” he said when reached by phone this morning. “I was working on it ‘til I picked up the phone.”

    Missouri’s death penalty has come under scrutiny lately. The state refuses to release the name of the compounding pharmacy that makes the drug, pentobarbital, for its executions. Missouri previously used propofol but had to switch because the European manufacturer threatened to halt all exports to the U.S. if the drug, used as a surgical anesthetic, was going to be continued to be used for executions.

    The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri has a pending lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Corrections that challenges the state’s staunch secrecy surrounding the pharmacy. The state has said it considers the pharmacy a part of the execution team and that allows for its anonymity.

    Bucklew, who is being held at the Potosi Correctional Center in Mineral Point is the fourth execution the Missouri Supreme Court has ordered in 2014. Five men have been put to death in Missouri since October. A message was left with the Missouri Department of Corrections Public Information Office.

    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

  10. #10
    Senior Member CnCP Addict Richard86's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    Wiltshire, England
    My girlfriend says this guy just looks like an older version of a university housemate I once had, especially his 2002 photo. My ex-housemate was pretty weird as well, just not as violent fortunately!

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