Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin on Wednesday issued a stay of execution for Richard Glossip, the second time in less than a month that Glossip has come within hours of lethal injection before last-minute intervention.
Her order, raising concerns over one of the drugs the state intended to use in its lethal cocktail, came an hour after the US denied Glossip’s final court appeal alleging new evidence of his innocence.
Fallin said the state had received the wrong drug to use as part of its three-drug lethal injection protocol and that the department of corrections was in possession of potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride. Potassium chloride is the third drug administered in the state’s lethal injection and is intended to stop the heart.
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Fallin set a new execution date for 37 days from now, on 6 November. It will be Glossip’s fourth scheduled execution date this year: one in January was called off when the US supreme court agreed to take up his challenge of another of the state’s execution drugs, and on 16 September he was hours from death when the Oklahoma court of criminal appeals issued a two-week stay so it could weigh new evidence of his innocence.
Outside the prison, sister Helen Prejean, a catholic nun who has long maintained Glossip’s innocence, spoke to him on speakerphone. Reporters there quoted her saying to Glossip: “Richard, honey, you’re alive.”
Glossip said the extra 37 days gives his legal team “time to think. That’s great.”
“I’ll take as many days as I can get,” he said.
Oklahoma has two executions scheduled next month. Benjamin Cole is scheduled to die on 7 October, and John Grant on 28 October. Both were Glossip’s co-defendants in the US supreme court case challenging midazolam. Terri Watkins, a department of corrections spokeswoman, said the department had not yet sought a stay of execution in either case.
Glossip, who has maintained his innocence, was convicted twice of orchestrating the beating death of Barry Van Treese, the owner of the Oklahoma City motel where Glossip worked. But Glossip claims he was framed by Justin Sneed, who is serving a life sentence and was the state’s key witness against Glossip in two separate trials.
He had earlier challenged the constitutionality of another drug in the cocktail, midazolam, which last year was used in the botched execution of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett, who writhed on a gurney for 43 minutes before dying. The US supreme court ruled against Glossip’s challenge in June.
Oklahoma, like many other death penalty states, keeps secret the source of its execution drugs. In Virginia, a federal court on Wednesday postponed the execution of Alfredo Prieto while his lawyers challenged the source of pentobarbitol which had been given to the state by the Texas department of corrections.
In Georgia, Kelly Gissendaner was executed early Wednesday morning after the US supreme court rejected her claim that she would be subject to cruel and unusual punishment without knowing the source of the drugs the state would use to put her to death. Her earlier scheduled execution was called off at the last minute when the drug, pentobarbitol, appeared “cloudy”.
Dale Baich, who argued Glossip’s midazolam challenge at the US supreme court, said he was concerned about how the wrong drug ended up in the hands of the department of corrections.
“Today’s hastily abandoned plans show what happens when states carry out executions in secrecy with unqualified execution team members and no public oversight,” Baich said. “The same extreme secrecy and culture of carelessness that led to that horrific botched execution also led to a moment today, where, apparently, Oklahoma once again realized something was wrong.”
The state’s attorney general’s office was angry about the delay. “It is unclear why, and extremely frustrating to the attorney general, that the department of corrections did not have the correct drugs to carry out the execution. Our hearts break for the family of Barry Van Treese for having to endure yet another delay,” attorney general Scott Pruitt said.
“However, the most sobering and important duty for the state is to carry out the punishment of death.”
Glossip’s family had been visibly upset at hearing of the supreme court’s refusal to issue a reprieve, local media reported. Attorney Don Knight told the crowd: “There’s nothing more we can do ... Everyone knows. The world knows that Richard Glossip is innocent.”
Upon hearing of the say, the family turned to celebration and gathered to pray.