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Oklahoma delays Richard Glossip execution amid evidence concerns

Story highlights

  • An anti-death penalty advocate applauds decision, urges governor to follow up
  • Court delays execution by two weeks, hours before it was scheduled to happen
  • Glossip was convicted of a murder-for-hire plot in the death of his boss

(CNN)An Oklahoma appellate court granted a two-week stay of execution for Richard Glossip just hours before he was scheduled to die Wednesday, meaning that a man whose lawyers say is innocent has at least a temporary reprieve.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals issued the order about three hours before Glossip's scheduled afternoon execution for the 1997 death of motel owner Barry Van Treese.
    The move came amid concerns, expressed by Glossip's supporters and attorneys, about his trial and the way the state planned to execute him. The appellate court said it needed time to consider several motions that Glossip's attorneys made less than 24 hours before the scheduled execution, including one asking for an evidentiary hearing.
    "Due to Glossip's last minute filing, and 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 court wrote.
    The order resets the execution date to September 30.
    After the stay was issued, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin issued a statement saying the "court is the proper place for Richard Glossip and his legal team to argue the merits of his case."
    "My office will respect whatever decision the court makes, as we have throughout this process," Fallin said.
    Glossip's lawyers have been asking Fallin for a 60-day reprieve, based on what they say is new evidence of innocence discovered in the past two weeks.
    Glossip was convicted of murder in Van Treese's death, though Glossip wasn't the actual killer.
    The man who bludgeoned Van Treese to death, Justin Sneed, testified that Glossip hired him for the murder. But jurors weren't presented with evidence that Sneed gave contradictory accounts to police about what happened, wrote Sister Helen Prejean, who ministers to prisoners on death row.
    Prejean also noted what she said was the lack of evidence linking Glossip to the crime.

    Concerns with midazolam

    The head of Oklahoma's Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty expressed enthusiasm and gratitude about Wednesday's decision, while expressing hopes that Fallin follows up with her own 60-day reprieve.
    "We remain hopeful about the courts and the governor, that she too will find a reason to support the court ... (to) evaluate Richard's case beyond any shadow of doubt," the group chairwoman Connie Johnson said. "Accordingly, we will continue our advocacy with her and the public."
    It's not just the facts of Glossip's particular case that activists have focused on. It's how he might be put to death.
    He had been scheduled to be the first inmate to be executed in Oklahoma since a bitterly divided Supreme Court allowed the use of the drug midazolam in June.
    The drug was used in the highly publicized execution of Clayton Lockett last year. Lockett's execution was one of the longest in U.S. history; he moaned and writhed on the gurney for 43 minutes before dying of a heart attack.
    A state investigation linked the problem to the IV lines not being inserted correctly.
    But the state did not deem it necessary to change its controversial three-drug formula. Of particular concern is the use of the sedative midazolam, also used in two other executions that went awry: Dennis McGuire agonized for 26 minutes in Ohio, and Joseph Wood gasped more than 600 times and took two hours to die in Arizona.
    Oklahoma has since upped its dosage of midazolam to 500 milligrams, compared with the 100 milligrams Lockett got.
    In a phone interview with CNN's Moni Basu earlier this year, Glossip said he was terrified he will suffer a similar agonizing death for a crime he says he didn't commit.
    "I am worried they will botch it again," Glossip said.

    Victim's brother has no sympathy

    Glossip, who has spent more than 17 years in a cell near the death chamber, also spoke about the man whose testimony led to his death sentence.
    "At first I was angry at Justin, but now I feel sorry for him," Glossip said. "He's afraid of how Oklahoma will kill him if he owns up to what really happened, just like I am afraid of how they'll kill me."
    At a clemency hearing for Glossip last year, Van Treese's brother expressed no sympathy for the inmate.
    "I will speak for my brother," Kenneth Van Treese said. "'It hurts like hell to have your head bashed in with a baseball bat. Do not feel sorry for the bastard who took my life.'"
    Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Van Treese's murder occurred in 1977, instead of 1997.