Court allows Glossip's execution; execution then delayed (UPDATED)

UPDATED 5:22 p.m. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin on Wednesday afternoon postponed the execution of Richard Glossip, to provide time to determine the adequacy of the new drug execution protocol the state has adopted. A new execution date was set for November 6. The governor issued a press release and an executive order announcing her action.

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Turning aside a claim that new evidence proves the innocence of an Oklahoma death-row inmate, the Supreme Court on Wednesday afternoon refused to delay the execution of Richard E. Glossip. The brief order also denied review of a petition making a new argument of innocence.

Only Justice Stephen G. Breyer noted that he would have postponed the execution, which was scheduled for later Wednesday. Glossip previously had failed in attempts in the Supreme Court and lower courts to get a new hearing on his claim that the only prosecution witness against him had lied. Pope Francis, who opposes the death penalty in general, also had made a plea to spare him.

In the final opinion issued by the Justices at the close of their last Term, they rejected a claim by Glossip and two other Oklahoma death-row inmates that it would be unconstitutional to use a sedative, midazolam, as the first drug in a three-drug execution protocol. The inmates contended that the first drug would not put the inmate into a deep unconscious state before two, more painful drugs were injected to complete the execution.

The Court had previously refused one request to delay the execution of those three inmates, and a fourth one, resulting in that inmate’s execution. Later, however, the Court put off the execution of Glossip and the other two, pending the ruling that it issued rejecting their challenge to Oklahoma’s execution method.

A feature of the ruling last Term was that Justice Breyer, in a separate opinion joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, suggested that the death penalty was probably unconstitutional, because of various defects they perceived in its administration, and that the Court at some point should confront that issue. Later, however, the Court turned down a rehearing request by Glossip and the other two inmates, seeking to have the Court use their case as a test of the constitutionality of death sentences in general.

Glossip’s new petition for review on the innocence claim, and his separate plea to delay the execution, were filed this week.

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