Why Richard Glossip received stay just minutes before scheduled execution

Gov. Mary Fallin granted death row inmate Richard Glossip a 37-day stay of execution on Wednesday.

Kevin Harvison/The McAlester News-Capital/AP
Richard Glossip’s sister, Nancy Ogden (l.) and her grandson Kevin Glossip embrace outside Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla., Wednesday. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin postponed at the last minute Wednesday the execution of the 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.

Death row inmate Richard Glossip was minutes from execution, stripped and mere feet from the death chamber in a holding cell, when he learned he had been granted a stay by the governor of Oklahoma.

"I'm just standing there in just my boxers," Mr. Glossip told reporters in a telephone interview from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, the Associated Press reports. "They wouldn't tell me anything. Finally someone came up and said I got a stay."

Twice in two weeks Glossip has received a last-minute stay of execution. The latest reprieve came from Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, who ordered a 37-day delay after prison officials discovered they had received the wrong drug for use during the execution.

Oklahoma uses a cocktail of three drugs for lethal injections. One, potassium chloride, had been ordered but officials say the state received potassium acetate instead. State law prohibits prison officials from revealing the drugs' supplier. Oklahoma officials were unsure if the potassium acetate was an appropriate substitute in an execution, though the drugs treat similar medical conditions.

Governor Fallin's spokesman Alex Weintz said Wednesday that the Department of Corrections doesn't receive its lethal injection drugs until the day of an execution, however state officials had written to the local federal public defender's office in August to say prison officials had found the needed drugs.

"I have received confirmation from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections that sufficient drugs to carry out the executions ... have been obtained," Assistant Attorney General John D. Hadden wrote in a letter Aug. 11.

According to Mr. Weintz, the Corrections Department immediately contacted the attorney general's office after realizing the mistake. Attorney General Scott Pruitt's office received word of the drug mix-up "shortly before" Glossip's scheduled execution Wednesday and advised that Oklahoma's lethal injection guidelines, which had been upheld by the US Supreme Court, had to be followed, said attorney general's office spokesman Aaron Cooper.

"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," Mr. Cooper said.

"Today's events only highlight how more transparency and public oversight in executions is sorely needed," Glossip's lawyer, Dale Baich, said Wednesday, who pointed out Oklahoma has had months to prepare.

According to protocol, the prison's death row section chief is to ensure the drugs are ordered, arrive on time, and are properly stored once the execution date is set, which in Glossip's case happened two weeks ago.

The governor rescheduled Glossip's execution for Nov. 6, saying it would give the state enough time to determine whether potassium acetate is a suitable substitute, or to locate potassium chloride.

Oklahoma's protocols call for the use of midazolam to render the individual unconscious at the start of an execution, then followed by vecuronium bromide, which halts an inmate's breathing, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. The governor's office said Wednesday it did not know whether potassium acetate had ever been used in an execution.

The Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death penalty group that maintains a database of medications used in executions, does not list potassium acetate among any state's drug protocols.

Glossip faces the death penalty for ordering the murder of Barry Van Treese in 1997. He was scheduled to be executed Sept. 16 but the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals granted a two-week stay to review his claims of new evidence, including another inmate's assertion that he overheard former motel handyman Justin Sneed admit to framing Glossip. Glossip has maintained he was framed by Mr. Sneed, who admitted to killing Van Treese. Sneed testified that Glossip promised him $10,000 to carry out the killing. Sneed was the state's key witness against Glossip in two separate trials; he is serving a life sentence, part of a plea bargain that included testimony against Glossip.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals and the US Supreme Court both rejected Glossip's requests for a stay this week – with justices acting just minutes before Glossip was due to die.

"This will allow us time to review the current drug protocol and answer any questions we might have about the drug protocol," Oklahoma Corrections Director Robert Patton told reporters before walking away without taking questions.

Patton took over as head of corrections in January 2014. Four months later, Oklahoma would be under scrutiny for the botched execution of Clayton Lockett, who struggled against his restraints after an intravenous line was improperly placed, dying 43 minutes after his lethal injection started. Officials from Oklahoma say two executions set for Oct. 7 and 28 are expected to occur as scheduled.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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