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Oklahoma governor halts Glossip execution at last minute over drug concerns

By Doug G. Ware

OKLAHOMA CITY, Sept. 30 (UPI) -- Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin stepped in at the last minute Wednesday to stop the execution of convicted killer Richard Glossip on Wednesday afternoon over worries about the lethal injection procedure.

Fallin was the last hope for Glossip after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a last-minute stay of execution earlier in the day.

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The high court voted 8-1 to proceed with Glossip's execution. The dissenting justice was Stephen Breyer, who argued in June that it is "likely" that capital punishment violates the constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Fallin's intervention was based on concerns about the state's three-drug lethal injection method, including potassium acetate -- which is not among the approved drugs for use in executions in the state.

RELATED Texas says it shared lethal drug for Virginia execution

Oklahoma law lists potassium chloride, which can stop the heart, as an acceptable drug, but not potassium acetate.

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"Last-minute questions were raised today about Oklahoma's execution protocol and the chemicals used for lethal injection," Fallin said in a statement Wednesday. "After consulting with the attorney general and the Department of Corrections, I have issued a 37-day stay of execution while the state addresses those questions and ensures it is complying fully with the protocols approved by federal courts."

The governor's executive order postpones Glossip's execution until at least Nov. 6.

RELATED Oklahoma court grants stay of execution for Richard Glossip

"My sincerest sympathies go out to the Van Treese family, who has waited so long to see justice done," Fallin added.

Glossip was convicted of orchestrating the murder of his boss in 1997 to cover up a theft. He has maintained over the years that he was framed by a co-worker.

Concerns about lethal injections in Oklahoma were underscored and amplified by the botched execution of Clayton Lockett last year. He was injected with a three-drug combination, but he did not die from the overdose because the intravenous line in Lockett's vein malfunctioned, pushing the drugs into his tissues instead of his bloodstream, officials said at the time.

RELATED Supreme Court upholds use of midazolam in lethal injections

Lockett died about 30 minutes later, not from the drugs, but from heart failure. The botched execution made headlines around the world and raised concerns about the state's lethal injection procedure.

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Glossip's stay of execution came one day after Kelly Renee Gissendaner was put to death in Georgia after her last-minute appeals for clemency were denied.

Like Gissendaner, Glossip's execution was included in an appeal by Pope Francis to have the death sentenced commuted.

"Together with Pope Francis, I believe that a commutation of Mr. Glossip's sentence would give clearer witness to the value and dignity of every person's life, and would contribute to a society more cognizant of the mercy that God has bestowed upon us all," Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the pontiff's personal representative, wrote in a letter to Fallin.

Unlike Glossip, though, Gissendaner did not get a last-minute intervention by the governor. It was unclear Wednesday whether the pope's plea had any bearing on Fallin's stepping in.

Glossip has now escaped death at the last minute multiple times this year. He was set to be executed in January but received a stay from the Supreme Court when it announced it would hear his appeal.

Then, earlier this month, he was again set to die when his attorneys filed a last-minute appeal claiming they had new evidence. An appeals court, though, subsequently ruled the evidence wasn't new and, in fact, had been raised at earlier appeals.

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