Court grants last-minute stay of Oklahoma execution

AFP| Updated: Sep 17, 2015, 02:47 AM IST

An Oklahoma court granted a last-minute stay of execution to a death-row inmate Wednesday in order to consider new evidence in his murder conviction, after support from a number of celebrities.

The two-week reprieve was announced about three hours before the 52-year-old Richard Glossip -- who has long proclaimed his innocence -- was set to die by lethal injection. 

Glossip said he "started jumping up and down like a crazy man" when he heard the news.

"I think we have a good chance now," he told his daughters while News 9 reporter Dana Hertneky listened on a speaker phone.

Actress Susan Sarandon and billionaire Richard Branson are among high-profile names who have voiced concern over Glossip`s case.

He also has garnered attention for his failed bid to ban a controversial drug used in lethal injections. The Supreme Court upheld the use of the drug midazolam in June, saying it does not violate the US Constitution.

Glossip`s lawyers produced new evidence earlier this week, but Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin said it was not "credible evidence" of his innocence and refused to delay his execution. 

The state`s criminal appeals court, however, said it wanted time to consider the evidence.

"In order for this court to give fair consideration to the materials included with his subsequent application for post-conviction relief, we hereby GRANT an emergency stay of execution for two weeks," the order issued by the Oklahoma criminal appeals court said.

Fallin said in a statement that she will "respect whatever decision the court makes, as we have throughout this process."

"As I have repeatedly said, court is the proper place for Richard Glossip and his legal team to argue the merits of his case," she added.

Glossip was found guilty of recruiting fellow motel employee Justin Sneed to carry out the 1997 murder of owner Barry Van Treese.

Glossip was convicted based on the testimony of Sneed, who pleaded guilty and was able to negotiate a life sentence by claiming his co-worker had masterminded the plot.

"My thoughts and prayers go out to the Van Treese family who has suffered greatly during this long ordeal," Fallin said.Supporters argue that there is no physical evidence to link Glossip to the brutal murder and that Sneed had every motive to lie.

"We need to keep fighting!" Sister Helen Prejean, a prominent Catholic nun, tweeted after the stay was announced. "We can save this man`s life!"

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said he was "confident that the Court of Criminal Appeals, after reviewing the filings, will conclude there is nothing worthy which would lead the court to overturn a verdict reached by two juries who both found Glossip guilty and sentenced him to death for Barry Van Treese`s murder."

Oklahoma and other states began using the sedative midazolam after pharmaceutical companies stopped selling the drugs previously used for lethal injections to US prisons.

Critics say midazolam is not strong enough to prevent inmates from experiencing agonizing pain during executions. But after reviewing evidence from three botched executions, the Supreme Court ruled that the use of the drug did not amount to "cruel and unusual punishment."

Lethal injection executions are expected to take 10 minutes, and in all three cases, the men could be seen gasping for air.

In April 2014, Oklahoma death-row inmate Clayton Lockett, convicted of murder, rape and kidnapping, took 43 minutes to die and could be seen writhing in pain during his prolonged execution.

A few months earlier, Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire, who murdered a pregnant woman, took 26 minutes to die, while Arizona death-row convict Joseph Wood, convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend and her father, took 117 minutes in July 2014.

Had Glossip`s execution gone forward it would have been the first time Oklahoma had used midazolam since winning approval from the Supreme Court.