Oklahoma delays execution; drug didn’t match protocols

McALESTER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin postponed at the last minute Wednesday the execution of an inmate who claims he’s innocent, after prison officials said one of the three drugs they had received to carry out the lethal injection didn’t match state guidelines.

Fallin said prison officials received potassium acetate for use in Richard Glossip’s execution, but Oklahoma’s protocols call for the use of potassium chloride. She reset the execution for Nov. 6, saying it would give the state enough time to determine whether potassium acetate is a suitable substitute, or to find a supply of potassium chloride.

Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said the Department of Corrections receives the drugs on the day of an execution. “When they realized it was acetate, DOC staff reached out immediately to the attorney general,” he said.

Aaron Cooper, spokesman for Attorney General Scott Pruitt, said the Corrections Department “advised the attorney general’s office that it did not have the specific drugs identified in the execution protocol.”

When learning about the role that the drug played in the delay, Glossip said: “That’s just crazy.”

“Nobody has really told me anything,” Glossip said in a phone interview with reporters who had gathered to witness his execution.

He said was still in his holding cell when he learned about the postponement. He said he has been returned to his normal cell on death and is “happy to have 37 more days.”

Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton said he requested the stay of execution “out of due diligence.”

“This will allow us time to review the current drug protocol and answer any questions we might have about the drug protocol,” he said before declining to take questions from reporters.

In April 2014, inmate Clayton Lockett writhed on the gurney, moaned and clenched his teeth for several minutes before prison officials tried to halt his execution. He died 43 minutes after his lethal injection started. The botched execution occurred about three months after Patton took over the prison system.

Glossip’s execution already had been delayed Wednesday as the Corrections Department waited for the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on Glossip’s claim of innocence. Justices ultimately rejected his appeal.

Glossip was convicted of ordering the 1997 killing of Barry Van Treese, who owned the Oklahoma City motel that Glossip managed.

Glossip has long claimed he was framed by motel handyman Justin Sneed, who admitted to fatally beating Van Treese with a baseball bat, but said he did so only after Glossip promised him $10,000. Sneed, who is serving a life sentence, was the state’s key witness against Glossip in two separate trials.

Glossip was originally scheduled for execution on Sept. 16. But just hours earlier, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals granted a rare two-week reprieve to review his claims of new evidence, including another inmate’s assertion that he overheard Sneed admit to framing Glossip.

But in a 3-2 decision Monday, 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 court majority wrote that the new evidence simply expands on theories raised in his original appeals.

Glossip’s lawyers went to the Supreme Court after the Oklahoma court rejected his final appeal.

The attorney general urged the high court to not stop the execution, arguing that another delay for Glossip would amount to a “travesty of justice.” After the delay was announced, Pruitt’s office seemed exasperated.

“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,” Cooper said.

Fallin has repeatedly denied Glossip’s request for a 60-day stay of execution. The Republican said in a statement Tuesday that she still had no plans to stop the punishment.

A representative for Pope Francis asked Fallin to commute Glossip’s death sentence, saying a commutation “would give clearer witness to the value and dignity of every person’s life.” The letter from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano is dated Sept. 19, but was released Wednesday by the governor’s office.

A spokesman for Fallin said the governor doesn’t have the authority to grant a commutation.

Besides claiming he’s innocent, Glossip also has challenged the state’s three-drug execution protocol. His attorneys argue that the sedative midazolam wouldn’t adequately render an inmate unconscious before the second and third drugs were administered. They said that presented a substantial risk of violating the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 in June that the sedative’s use was constitutional.

After the Lockett execution, the state 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.

A prison spokeswoman said there are no plans to delay the executions scheduled for Cole and Grant.

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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