Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin issued a last-minute stay of execution on Wednesday for Richard Glossip, a high-profile death row prisoner who was set to be put death by a controversial lethal injection procedure.
Glossip was convicted of hiring a hit man to murder Barry Van Treese, the owner of an Oklahoma City motel where he was employed. In January 1997, Van Treese was found dead in room 102 of his own establishment, Best Budget Inn. Investigators concluded that someone had beaten him to death with a baseball bat.
The police found fingerprints belonging to Justin Sneed, the motel's maintenance man, all over the room. Sneed later confessed to the crime. Prosecutors alleged that Glossip, the motel manager, masterminded the murder. Sneed testified against Glossip in court to avoid the death sentence. In 1998, a jury found Glossip guilty and sentenced him to death. Glossip has consistently maintained his innocence in the killing, and activists, celebrities, and religious figures have petitioned to spare his life.
A press release from the governor's office said the stay of execution was granted "to address legal questions raised today about Oklahoma's execution protocols."
Glossip was slated to be the first Oklahoma prisoner executed since the US Supreme Court ruled in June that the use of midazolam, a sedative in the lethal injection procedure, did not violate the US Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Lawyers for Glossip and other Oklahoma death-row inmates have challenged midazolam — a benzodiazepine — saying it could not achieve the level of unconsciousness required for surgery and is therefore unsuitable for executions.
"Last-minute questions were raised today about Oklahoma's execution protocol and the chemicals used for lethal injection," Fallin said in a statement. "After consulting with the attorney general and the Department of Corrections, I have issued a 37-day stay of execution while the state addresses those questions and ensures it is complying fully with the protocols approved by federal courts."
Glossip is now scheduled to be put to death on Friday, November 6. Fallin's office said the delay "will give the Department of Corrections and its attorneys the opportunity to determine whether potassium acetate is compliant with the state's court-approved execution procedures."
Glossip, 52, has spent some 18 years on death row for the murder of Van Treese. His conviction — which was largely based on the testimony of Sneed, who allegedly confessed later to friends and family that he had framed Glossip — attracted the attention of anti-death penalty advocates, including actress Susan Sarandon and billionaire Richard Branson, who have rallied to Glossip's defense over the years.
Pope Francis wrote a letter to Governor Fallin this week seeking mercy for Glossip. The pope had also advocated on behalf of Georgia death row inmate Kelly Gissendaner, who on Tuesday afternoon became the first woman executed by the state in 70 years.
Earlier this month, an appeals court in Oklahoma temporarily halted the execution so it could review a trove of documents submitted by Glossip's legal team released that cast further doubt on his guilt.
Among the documents released on was a letter from O'Ryan Justine Sneed, Justin Sneed's daughter.
"I strongly believe he [Glossip] is an innocent man [who] is sitting on death row," she wrote last October. "For a couple of years now, my father has been talking to me about recanting his original testimony, but he has been afraid to act upon it, in fear of being charged with the death penalty."
An affidavit from a man named Richard Allan Barrett also challenged the dynamic between Glossip and Sneed presented to the jury by prosecutors.
"I saw nothing to make me think that Justin Sneed was controlled by Richard Glossip," Barrett stated. Barrett said he frequently dealt meth with Glossip's brother Bobby at the motel. According to the same affidavit, Sneed would shoot up meth "6 to 7 times a day," and he was addicted to the drug "in a bad way."
"As far as I know, Richard Glossip was a good-hearted guy who was not involved in Bobby Glossip's drug business," Barrett said.
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