Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip received a stay of execution from Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday just hours before he was scheduled to be killed. Earlier that day the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene in his case despite new evidence the inmate's lawyers say proves his innocence.
The executive order signed by Fallin postpones Glossip's execution date until Nov. 6. The order states that the delay will give the state's Department of Corrections time to determine whether potassium acetate, one of three drugs to be used in the lethal injection, "is compliant with the execution protocol." If the drug is found not to be compliant, then the state says it will obtain potassium chloride as a substitute before the Nov. 6 deadline.
If Glossip is killed, it will be the first execution in Oklahoma since the nation's highest court upheld the state's three-drug lethal injection formula.
Glossip, 52, was charged in the 1997 murder of Barry Van Treese, his employer at an Oklahoma City motel. With a dearth of physical evidence, Glossip was convicted primarily on testimony given by Justin Sneed, 38, who was given a life sentence in exchange for his confession that Glossip hired him to beat Van Treese to death. Glossip has maintained his innocence.
Just hours before Glossip was originally scheduled to be executed on Sept. 16, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals granted a two-week reprieve to review his claims of new evidence in the case, including another inmate's assertion that he overheard Sneed admit to framing Glossip.
An argument filed to an Oklahoma appeals court included a signed affidavit from a convict in Sneed’s prison claiming that Sneed had been “bragging about how Glossip took the fall” for Van Treese’s murder, Sister Helen Prejean, Glossip’s spiritual adviser, told Al Jazeera before his original execution date.
But in a 3-2 decision earlier this week, the same court denied Glossip's request for an evidentiary hearing and emergency stay of execution, paving the way for his execution to proceed. The majority wrote that the new evidence simply expands on theories raised in his original appeals.
On Tuesday, Glossip's attorneys made a last-ditch request to both the U.S. Supreme Court and Fallin to issue a stay of execution.
“Recently discovered evidence demonstrates substantial doubt about Sneed's credibility,” his attorneys wrote in a petition to the Supreme Court.
Fallin has repeatedly denied Glossip's request for a 60-day stay and said in a statement Tuesday she had no plans to commute his sentence.
“The state of Oklahoma has gone to extraordinary lengths to guarantee that Richard Glossip is treated fairly and that the claims made by him and his attorneys are taken seriously,” she said. “He has now had multiple trials, 17 years of appeals and three stays of his execution. Over and over again, courts have rejected his arguments and the information he has presented to support them.”
Prejean said that regardless of whether he is executed, his case could have a significant impact on how Americans view the death penalty. “If they kill Richard today or if they don’t, the landscape has changed because it will be an excellent example of how you can kill an innocent man. The American people are waking up. Richard will have helped if he lives or if he dies,” she said on Sept. 16.
Glossip was the lead plaintiff in a separate case in which his attorneys argued the sedative midazolam did not adequately render a death row inmate unconscious before the second and third drugs were administered. They said that presented a substantial risk of violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. But in June, the justices voted 5-4 that the sedative's use was constitutional.
Oklahoma first used midazolam last year in the execution of Clayton Lockett, who writhed on the gurney, moaned and clenched his teeth for several minutes before prison officials tried to halt the process. He died 43 minutes after the sedative was first injected.
The state then increased by five times the amount of midazolam it uses and executed Charles Warner in January. He complained of a burning sensation but showed no other obvious signs of physical distress.
Oklahoma has two more executions planned in upcoming weeks. Benjamin Cole is set to be executed on Oct. 7 for the 2002 killing of his 9-month-old daughter, and John Grant is scheduled to die on Oct. 28 for the 1998 stabbing death of a prison worker at the Dick Connor Correctional Center in Hominy.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press. With additional reporting by Massoud Hayoun.