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Fallin Issues Stay Of Execution To Glossip Over Concerns About Execution Drugs

Attorney Don Knight on the phone with Richard Glossip outside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.
Jacob McCleland
Attorney Don Knight on the phone with Richard Glossip outside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester

Gov. Mary Fallin has issued a 37-day stay of executionto Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip because of concerns the state doesn't have the right drugs for the lethal injection.

Updated 6:05 p.m.

Glossip's lawyers said they were perplexed, and still trying to make sense of what happened.

Attorney Don Knight told KGOU's Jacob McCleland he'd already informed Glossip's family they were past the point where the U.S. Supreme Court had denied a stay. He said there were shock and tears - family members had been hoping for a resolution or a long stay so the high court could take a closer look at the case.

"I talked to Richard, and he is as bewildered as the rest of us," Knight said. "He was horrified and terrified in there, hoping there would be a real stay that would come down."

Glossip wasn't strapped to the gurney, and hadn't even been moved to the death chamber when he learned of his delay. He was pacing back and forth in his cell, and initially thought the postponement came from the Supreme Court before receiving clarification about the drug issues. It's now the fourth time Glossip has had his pending execution put on hold, and Knight said there's a case to be made for cruel and unusual punishment.

"It sounds like torture to me," Knight said. "I wish they would just commute his sentence to life, and we could take it from there. We've got to stop this roller coaster we're all on."

Dale Baich is an assistant federal public defender working on Glossip's case. He said they only found out about the isssue with the drugs when Fallin issued her stay Wednesday afternoon.

"We received a letter in August from the Department of Corrections saying it was going to use potassium chloride as the third drug,"  Baich said. "And I was a little shocked to say the least, because potassium chloride was not on the list for the drugs to be used today."

Baich said he's pleased the governor issued a stay, and the legal team plans to review the executive order and figure out their next move.

"She did the right thing here, and I think there needs to be some time and an investigation to see what went wrong here," Baich said.

Knight says defense attorneys plan to use the next 37 days to try to find even more evidence that would prove their client's innocence.

Updated 5:33 p.m.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said he's frustrated the Department of Corrections didn't have the specific drugs outlined in the DOC's execution protocol, and said the office only learned about the issue moments before the lethal injection was to be carried out.

"The attorney general advised the Department of Corrections and the governor that the litigated protocol, which had been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, had to be followed," the AG's office said in a statement.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma's use of midazolam as the first in a three-drug protocol to carry out the death penalty. Recently updated DOC policy calls for use of the sedative midazolam to produce a coma-like state, followed by vecuronium bromide to stop breathing, then potassium chloride to stop the heart. Shortly before the death penalty was scheduled to be carried out, prison officials announced they had a dosage of potassium acetate, not potassium chloride.

Updated 4:01 p.m.

"This stay is ordered due to the Department of Corrections having received potassium acetate as drug number three for the three-drug protocol," Fallin's order said. "This stay will give the Department of Corrections and its attorneys the opportunity to determine whether potassium acetate is compliant with the execution protocol and/or to obtain potassium chloride."

The order says Glossip's execution will now take place Friday, November 6. It's not clear what the delay of Glossip's execution will mean for Benjamin Cole, who had been set to die October 7.

Updated 2:59 p.m.

The U.S. Supreme Court has denied an 11th-hour stay of execution for Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip, meaning his lethal injection will now move forward two weeks after a temporary reprieve granted by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.

When the high court issued its 5-4 decision in June regarding Oklahoma's execution protocol, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote it may be time to reexamine the death penalty in this country, NPR's legal affairs corespondent Nina Totenberg told KGOU's Kate Carlton Greer:

“Innocence was one of the points that Breyer was making. And the other is the rarity of the death penalty, and the fact that the only people executed tend to be the most poor, the least represented, and that because there are problems with the death penalty, and how it is sought by prosecutors in some parts of the country but not in other parts of the country, or in some counties and not in other counties, or in some towns and not in other towns,” Totenberg said. “It is an inherently unfair system and it takes so long to actually impose the death penalty because of all the difficulties with it, sometimes as many as 20 or 30 years, that it doesn't even do what it's supposed to.”

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections had delayed proceeding with the execution until they received word from the Supreme Court.

Updated 1:27 p.m.

His attorneys are still trying to halt the execution through the U.S. Supreme Court, but so far there's been no word from the high court. Media will find out at 2 p.m. who will be selected to view Glossip's execution.

Under Oklahoma Department of Corrections protocol, five members of the news media will be selected to witness the execution. First preference will be given to a local media member where the crime was committed (in this case Oklahoma City), followed by the Associated Press. The other three will be selected by random drawing.

A protest area has been set up outside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, but no one has shown up.

At the appointed hour, Glossip will be administered a three-drug cocktail consisting of midazolam, rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride. The first drug, a sedative, was at the center of a U.S. Supreme Court case examining whether or not Oklahoma's procedures violate the Constiution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Glossip was the lead plaintiff in the case.

Glossip will be the 113th inmate to die by lethal injection since Oklahoma resumed executions in 1990 following a 1976 Supreme Court decision that ended a de facto nationwide moratorium on the death penalty. That number is second only to the state of Texas. Oklahoma was the first state in the nation to use lethal injection as its primary method of capital punishment.

Oklahoma currently has 49 inmates on death row. All but three are housed at the OSP in McAlester.

Two weeks ago Glossip was served a last meal consisting of fish and chips from Long John Silver's, and a bacon cheeseburger and strawberry malt from Wendy's. That last meal request didn't change much Tuesday night.

Last week, a representative of Pope Francis sent a letter to Gov. Mary Fallin asking her to commute Glossip's death sentence.

"A commutation of Mr. Glossip's sentence would give clearer witness to the value and dignity of every person's life, and would contribute to a society more cognizant of the mercy that God has bestowed upon us all," the letter from Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò reads. "May God guide your prayerful consideration of this request by Pope Francis for what I believe would be an admirable and just act of clemency."

Original Post:

Gov. Mary Fallin says she will not intervene.

“Richard Glossip has had almost 18 years of hearings, trials, appeals. He’s had three stays on his execution. He took it all the way to the Court of Criminal Appeals,” Fallin told KWGS Public Radio Tulsa. “It’s the law of the state of Oklahoma; my job as the governor is just to make sure the law is carried forth."

Fallin said the criminal justice system has worked as it should in Glossip’s case. "I will say, I still believe in the death penalty, which is the current law in Oklahoma, and I still believe in justice for the victims that have suffered so much in horrible crimes like murder," Fallin said. While she avoided speaking personally, Fallin said there is anxiety in the state over Glossip’s impending death. "This particular case has received a lot of national press because of anti-death penalty groups, and they are truly what they are: anti-death penalty groups that do not support that," Fallin said.

Glossip was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to die for hiring a coworker to kill Oklahoma City motel owner Barry Van Treese in 1997. The motel's maintenance man Justin Sneed confessed to killing Van Treese, and Glossip says he didn't orchestrate the murder-for-hire plot.

On Monday the appeals court denied Glossip's request for an additional stay of execution, an evidentiary hearing, and a motion for discovery. In the narrow 3-2 ruling, the court said the new evidence only expands on theories already raised in Glossip's earlier appeal, which was denied.

Under the Oklahoma constitution, the governor can authorize a 60-day stay of execution.

Glossip's lawyers say he's innocent. In a letter to Fallin Tuesday, the defense team asked Fallin for a reprieve, saying Sneed told the online news outlet The Frontier in an exclusive interview he was a young man in over his head in drug use, with a history of anger and violence.

“In this September 21, 2015 interview, Mr. Sneed confirms that when he talked with (Oklahoma City Police) Detectives Bemo and Cook, and where he first blamed Mr. Glossip for this crime, he feels that he may have still been under the influence of methamphetamine,” Glossip’s attorneys Donald Knight, Mark Olive, and Kathleen Lord wrote.

How We Got Here

In January 1997, Van Treese discovered a $6,000 shortfall at the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City. Glossip managed the motel, and Van Treese told his wife he planned to ask Glossip about it.

A day later, Van Treese’s body was found in Room 102 of the motel. He owned several motels across the state, and often stayed in that particular room when visiting Oklahoma City property.

Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Eugene Glossip
Credit Oklahoma Department of Corrections

Both Glossip and Sneed were arrested in the days following the beating death – each carrying large amounts of cash. During a police interview, Sneed tells investigators Glossip hired him to kill Van Treese, and they would split the money.

Throughout Glossip’s 1998 trial, Sneed told jurors Glossip was worried about being fired, and would pay him $10,000 if he robbed and killed Van Treese. Sneed received a life sentence without the possibility of parole, and Glossip is sentenced to die.

Three years later, Glossip’s conviction was overturned by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, who said Sneed’s testimony was weak, and Glossip’s lawyers were ineffective. In 2004, a second jury reached the same verdict and sentence in Glossip’s retrial. That conviction was upheld by the OCCA in 2008. Glossip’s attorneys then tried to appeal on the federal level, but the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that conviction in 2013.

Nine months later, Oklahoma’s death penalty protocol were called into question after the botched execution of Clayton Lockett, where the inmate writhed and moaned on the gurney, and a subsequent investigation revealed flaws in the state’s procedure to carry out lethal injections. Glossip and nearly two dozen other state death row inmates filed a federal lawsuit arguing the state was violating their constitutional rights by testing unproven drugs during executions.

Glossip’s November 2014 execution was pushed back three months to January 2015 because the state said it needed time to obtain the drugs they planned to use to carry out the lethal injection. Before that could happen, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider whether the state can use the sedative midazolam as part of its three-drug cocktail, effectively placing a moratorium on executions in the state until the high court issues its ruling in June. Oral arguments took place on April 29, 2015 – a year to the day after Lockett’s execution. Two months later, on a sharply-divided 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma’s use of midazolam during state executions. A little over a week later, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals set Glossip’s execution for September 16.

In the weeks leading up to the execution, Glossip’s attorneys continued to gather new evidence and filed that with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. At the same time, anti-death penalty activists, led by Sister Helen Prejean and Hollywood actress Susan Sarandon, spearheaded a campaign to prove Glossip’s innocence.

Just hours before Glossip was set to die, the OCCA intervened and moved Glossip’s execution to September 30 – giving the attorneys two weeks to gather more evidence.

On Monday, the court denied Glossip’s request for a stay, an evidentiary hearing, and a motion for discovery. Without further intervention from the courts or the governor, Glossip will die shortly after 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

KGOU is a community-supported news organization and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.

Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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