By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
Last week, a day before the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision to take another look at pending executions in Oklahoma, Sister Helen Prejean, a well-known opponent of capital punishment, circulated to the The City Sentinel and other news organizations a statement.
The status of planned executions remained uncertain last weekend, but serious High Court review of underlying issues puts them in doubt.
Sister Prejean explained the statement was “dictated to me by phone by Richard Glossip on Jan. 22, 2015.” Glossip’s words follow:
“My name is Richard Glossip. I’m coming to you today to let you know that on Jan. 29, … the State of Oklahoma is going to execute me – and that they will be executing an innocent man. I’m asking that everyone please stand up and help me to stop this injustice from happening. I’m pleading with Gov. Mary Fallin to please grant me a 60-day reprieve, which is in her power, so that my attorneys can put a case together to bring directly to her so she can see for herself all the facts of my case and not just some of them, and so I can prove to her my innocence.
“Please Gov. Fallin – give me that chance. Wouldn’t it be worth at least a 60-day reprieve to prevent an innocent man’s death? Please listen to the thousands of people who have signed my petition asking you to stop this. I’m asking Justin Sneed once again to come forward to help stop this before it’s too late. I want to thank Sister Helen Prejean and everybody else for all their help.”
Glossip and Prejean asked that concerned citizens telephone Gov. Fallin’s office and sign Glossip’s petition, at RichardEGlossip.com.
Sister Prejean said, “I have been in close communication with Richard, his attorney and all the people trying to help him, and I want to participate in this [Jan. 27] press conference to get the word out about his innocence and how completely broken our criminal justice system is – including the court system – that is letting this innocent man be brought to the brink of death.”
After 17 years on death row, Glossip consistently maintains his innocence.
Glossip was convicted of being involved in a 1997 murder-for-hire plot that resulted in the death of Barry Van Treese. Justin Sneed was convicted of the actual killing of Van Treese and is serving a life sentence without parole.
Charles Warner’s was the first execution of 2015 and the first since the infamous “botched execution,” as news stories soon dubbed the event, of Clayton Darrell Lockett on April 29, 2014.
It was the second time Oklahoma used midazolam as part of a three-drug method. Its use had been challenged by Warner and other death row inmates as an unconstitutional risk of pain and suffering.” Their claim was rejected in a 5-4 vote.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “Petitioners have committed horrific crimes, and should be punished, but the Eighth Amendment guarantees that no one should be subjected to an execution that causes searing, unnecessary pain before death.”
Sister Prejean is the author of “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States.” The book became an Oscar winning movie, an opera and a play. After corresponding with Glossip by mail Prejean became his spiritual advisor.
A press conference hosted by the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty was scheduled this week, for Tuesday (Jan. 27) at the State Capitol. Sister Prejean planned to ask Gov. Mary Fallin to spare Glossip’s life.
Other scheduled speakers include State Rep. George Young, D-Oklahoma City; Rev. Dr. William Tabbernee, Executive Director Oklahoma Conference of Churches; Bud Welch, President of Murder Victim Families for Human Rights and OK-DADP board member; and Brady Henderson, ACLU-OK Legal Director; and Rev. Adam Leathers, OK-CADP spokesperson.
The group has long urged Gov. Fallin to halt all executions. Two more executions are scheduled: John Marion Grant is set to die on Feb. 19 and Benjamin Robert Cole, Sr. on March 5. Those now seem less likely in light of the High Court’s pending review of issues raised in the cases.
Leathers said, “Sister Prejean is not only a voice of reason on this very important issue but is also a reminder that the Death Penalty is absolutely contrary to Jesus Christ, his teachings, and what God expects from the Church.”
Four Supreme Court justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sotomayor have argued that Warner deserved a stay of execution because his attorneys raised enough doubt that the state’s use of midazolam violates the Eighth Amendment’s protection against “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Sotomayor pointed out that Florida’s previous “apparent success” with midazolam is questionable given its use of the paralytic vecuronium bromide, which could mask the other drug’s effects. “… The inmate may be fully conscious but unable to move,” she wrote.
It takes the vote of five justices to stay an execution, but only four to agree to hear a case.
After the Supreme Court voted 5-4 against a stay for Warner, the high court has agreed to take up a challenge to Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol that claims the process amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Attorneys for Glossip said after the court’s announcement they are pressing again for a stay of execution. Glossip is among 21 death row inmates who filed the lawsuit last summer.
The court scheduled oral arguments in the case for April 29, one year after Lockett’s botched execution, which used the state’s new protocol.
Warner’s attorney Lanita Henricksen said, “I am truly grateful that our client, Richard Glossip, and the other plaintiffs will benefit by the grant of certiorari. I am stunned, however, that my client, Charles Warner, was allowed to be executed days ago although the case will now be heard by the Supreme Court.
“This is especially devastating considering the fact that the mother of the victim in Mr. Warner’s case had requested that he not be executed. Dale Baich, an attorney for Glossip said it is time for the court to take a careful look at the use of “novel and experimental drugs protocols.”
For more information about the issue, from OK-CADP’s perspective, visit okcadp.org.
NOTE: Publisher Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.