US set for second execution in as many days

Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip is shown in this Oklahoma Department of Corrections photo.
Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip is shown in this Oklahoma Department of Corrections photo. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US state of Oklahoma was scheduled to execute a man on Wednesday (Sept 30) who had challenged the legality of the drugs used there for lethal injection, despite an appeal from Pope Francis for the inmate to be spared.

Richard Glossip was set to die by lethal injection at 3:00 pm (2000 GMT) following a two-week reprieve to allow time for the consideration of new evidence in his murder conviction.

His execution would be the second in as many days in the United States, after Georgia on Tuesday went ahead with an execution - the first of a woman in 70 years in the southern state - despite a similar call for clemency from the pontiff.

Glossip was found guilty of recruiting fellow motel employee Justin Sneed to carry out the 1997 murder of owner Barry Van Treese.

He was subsequently convicted based on the testimony of Sneed, who pleaded guilty and was able to negotiate a life sentence by claiming his co-worker had masterminded the plot.

In a September 21 letter to state Governor Mary Fallin, the pope's representative asked that Glossip's sentence be commuted, writing it would "give clearer witness to the value and dignity of every person's life," broadcaster NBC reported.

In a speech to the US Congress during his six-day tour of the United States last week, the pontiff had called for the global abolition of the death penalty.

But it was unclear what effect, if any, the papal appeal would have.

Glossip's case has also attracted other high-profile attention, with actress Susan Sarandon and billionaire Richard Branson among those who have voiced concern.

Branson had appealed to the public to call Fallin's office and request a fresh 60-day stay of execution. "To the Government & citizens of Oklahoma: your State is about to kill a man who may well be innocent," he tweeted Tuesday.

Glossip's lawyers produced new evidence earlier this month, but Fallin said it was not "credible evidence" of his innocence and refused to delay his execution.

The state's criminal appeals court however said it wanted more time to consider the evidence and granted a last-minute stay of execution on September 16.

Supporters argue that there is no physical evidence to link Glossip to the brutal murder and that Sneed had every motive to lie.

However, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has said he was confident that the criminal appeals court would conclude that there was "nothing worthy" that would lead it to overturn the guilty verdict.

Glossip's case has also sparked interest for his failed bid to ban a controversial drug used in lethal injections. The Supreme Court upheld the use of the drug midazolam in June, saying it does not violate the US Constitution.

Oklahoma and other states began using midazolam, a sedative, after pharmaceutical companies stopped selling the drugs previously used for lethal injections to US prisons.

Critics, however, say midazolam is not strong enough to prevent inmates from experiencing agonizing pain during executions.