AG Asks To Halt All Oklahoma Executions While Drugs Are Examined

Thursday, October 1st 2015, 5:56 pm
By: News On 6

A last-minute stay granted to Oklahoma death row prisoner Richard Glossip is raising questions about the state's lethal injection process.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt is now asking the state to stay Oklahoma's next three executions indefinitely.

Just before Glossip was scheduled to die on Wednesday, Gov. Mary Fallin granted Glossip a 37-day stay of execution. Officials say a chemical called potassium acetate was delivered to the prison for the injection, but Oklahoma guidelines actually call for potassium chloride.

9/30/2015 Related Story: Gov. Fallin Grants Stay Of Execution For Richard Glossip

So how did the mix-up happen, and what does this mean for future executions?

Sister Helen Prejean is an internationally known death penalty opponent and close friend of Glossip. She was prepared to watch him die on Wednesday afternoon.

“Then I noticed it got to be a quarter till three, and we weren't being taken in the van back to the execution table,” Prejean said.

It never happened. There had been a mistake.

The prison's supplier sent potassium acetate, not potassium chloride.

And two hours before the execution, officials discovered that the solution meant to stop Glossip's heart and end his life -- was the wrong one.

Robert Patton, director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, said medical experts told them the drugs are interchangeable, but he did not want to break protocol.

"I said stop,” Patton said. “That's what the protocol is supposed to do. Nothing failed in the protocol. The protocol worked exactly as it was supposed to work. I had a question. I used the word stop."

But the mix-up cast a doubt on future lethal injections in Oklahoma.

It was enough for Attorney General Scott Pruitt to ask the Court of Appeals to halt the next three executions, including Glossip's. And it was more than enough for opponents like Prejean to call for an end to the death penalty altogether.

“I couldn't be happier,” Prejean said. “Richard's alive, so are we, and we'll fight on for him.”

Patton said he will not release the name of the company that supplies the chemicals to the prison.

Starting on Nov. 1, the law allows Oklahoma to use nitrogen for executions, but Patton says the state is not prepared for that, as it doesn’t even have a nitrogen protocol in place.

Glossip was convicted of ordering the death of Barry Van Treese, the owner of the Best Budget Inn where Glossip worked as the resident manager. Prosecutors say Glossip masterminded the killing at the motel in Oklahoma City because he was afraid Van Treese was about to fire him for embezzling money and poorly managing the inn.

Justin Sneed, a handyman at the motel, was sentenced to life in prison for fatally beating Van Treese with a baseball bat. In exchange for the life sentence, he agreed to testify against Glossip and was the prosecution's key witness in two separate trials.

Glossip originally was scheduled to die Sept. 16, but the court of appeals granted a two-week reprieve because of supposed "new evidence," Glossip's lawyers said existed. The court ruled that evidence simply expanded on theories that were already raised in Glossip's original appeals.

An hour before Fallin granted the stay because of drug protocol questions on Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay request by Glossip's attorneys.

The new execution date is Nov. 6 unless the attorney general's recommendation is accepted for an indefinite stay while the execution drugs are examined.