The U.S. Supreme Court issued stays of execution Wednesday for three Oklahoma death-row inmates whose challenge to the state's lethal-injection formula will be heard in the spring. The prisoners include Richard Glossip, who had been scheduled to die Thursday night and whose cause has been championed by prominent capital-punishment opponent Sister Helen Prejean.
For the first time since 2008, the high court has agreed to hear a challenge to the legality of lethal injection. The Oklahoma case centers on the first of three drugs administered to a condemned inmate — the sedative midazolam, which opponents say isn't strong enough to protect a prisoner from the other two chemicals used. Midazolam has featured in at least three executions that did not unfold as planned.
Glossip, 51, was convicted twice in the murder-for-hire of his boss. Prejean, who was portrayed in the 1995 movie "Dead Man Walking," is his spiritual adviser and plans to accompany him to the execution chamber if he loses his appeals. At a press conference in Oklahoma on Tuesday, the nun called for repeal of the death penalty in the state.
"There is no humane way to kill a conscious, imaginative human being," she said. "We the citizens have our name on that gurney."
Polls have show a majority of Americans still support capital punishment, even after the high-profile botching of Clayton Lockett's execution in Oklahoma in April, which prompted a federal review of lethal-injection protocols.
In addition to granting Glossip a reprieve, the Supreme Court also issued stays for two other death-row killers — Benajmin Cole and John Grant — who were scheduled for execution in February and March. The Oklahoma attorney general requested the stays until the litigation is resolved.
"We welcome today's ruling staying executions in Oklahoma until the Court can addresses serious questions about the state's risky lethal injection protocol," said defense lawyer Dale Baich.
"Last year, Oklahoma was responsible for the bungled execution of Clayton Lockett, which relied on an experimental lethal injection protocol and took more than forty minutes to cause death. Midazolam is an inappropriate drug to use in executions. The scientific evidence tells us that even the proper administration of midazolam can result in an inhumane execution.
"We look forward to exploring these questions with the Court."
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