one of the world’s most well-known anti-death-penalty activists. She is the author of the best-selling book, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty.
We end today’s show in Oklahoma. Just moments before death row inmate Richard Glossip was scheduled to be killed on Wednesday, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin issued a stay of execution citing questions over the execution protocol and the chemicals used for lethal injection. Richard Glossip’s case has attracted international attention. On Wednesday, Pope Francis urged Governor Fallin to commute the death sentence over questions of Glossip’s guilt. We speak to Sister Helen Prejean, one of the world’s most well-known anti-death-penalty activists. She is the author of the best-selling book, "Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty."
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We end today’s show in Oklahoma. Just moments before death row inmate Richard Glossip was scheduled to be killed on Wednesday, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin issued a stay of execution. She wrote in a statement, quote, "Last-minute questions were raised today about Oklahoma’s execution protocol and the chemicals used for lethal injection. 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 stay is intended to give the Department of Corrections and its attorneys time to determine whether potassium acetate complies with the state’s court-approved execution procedures.
AMY GOODMAN: Richard Glossip’s case has attracted international attention. On Wednesday, Pope Francis urged Oklahoma Governor Fallin to commute the sentence over questions of Glossip’s guilt.
The case dates back to 1997, when Glossip was working as a manager at the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City when his boss, Barry Van Treese, was murdered. A maintenance worker, Justin Sneed, admitted he beat Van Treese to death with a baseball bat, but claimed Glossip offered him money for the killing. The case rested almost solely on Sneed’s claims. No physical evidence ever tied Glossip to the crime. And Sneed, in exchange for his testimony, did not get the death penalty.
For more, we’re joined now by Sister Helen Prejean. She’s one of the world’s most well-known anti-death-penalty activists. As a Catholic nun, she began her prison ministry over 30 years ago, author of the best-selling book, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty.
Sister Helen Prejean, welcome back to Democracy Now! We are speaking to you every day. This is absolutely astounding, what’s taking place in Oklahoma. So, the stay of execution was issued not over the innocence or guilt of Richard Glossip, but over which drug they would use to kill him?
SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: It’s stunning. I was in the room where the witnesses were being held. We weren’t getting any information. So, at 2:30—Richard was supposed to be killed at 3:00—I looked at my watch. I said, "It’ll be time for them now to take us over in the van." At 3:00 nothing had happened—3:15, 3:30. You know, what can be going on? I thought it would be because the Supreme Court was really looking at all the, you know, new evidence of possible innocence. But, in fact, we only got one vote from the Supreme Court. And it was only when we were brought out that we heard that they had messed up the drug.
And this potassium acetate, they thought they had—or should have had potassium chloride, which stops the heart, and they had a—it was a food additive or food preservative, which just shows you how broken the bloody thing is. I mean, you reach for the wrong vial? You had time to get this together. And to me, Amy, what it shows most of all is how broken the system is, because the Supreme Court has turned over to the states the administration of death, and they’re not even supervising or asking accountability to them of what drugs they’re using, and allowing them to experiment. They got the wrong bloody vial and only at the last minute discovered that they had potassium acetate.
AMY GOODMAN: So what happens now? And have you spoken to Richard Glossip?
SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Yeah, right afterward.
AMY GOODMAN: How many time—you did speak to him.
SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Oh, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And what did he say?
SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Well, he was really—you can see he’s losing weight, and the stress is really getting to him. And he was just saying, "You know, I thought this time really might be it. I was sitting in my cell. Nobody was coming." He wasn’t getting any information at all. And I felt that a little bit just being with the witnesses, but much less when you’re the one sitting in that cell.
So what happens next? On one level, they might just clean up the protocol, get the right drugs and say, "Let’s go again"—unless something else happens, unless the lawyers could bring the issue to the 10th Circuit, which they did not—they went straight to the Supreme Court yesterday—and just show all the new witnesses that show the complete unreliability of the man Justin Sneed, which the state themselves characterized as inherently suspect, and just show that, you know, in one of the—in the criminal—
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.
SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: OK, criminal court of appeals, in the dissent, one of them said, "This man did not have a fair trial, obviously. There needs to be a way that the new evidence can be looked at, because this really might be an innocent man."
AMY GOODMAN: Sister Helen Prejean, we’ll leave it there. One of the world’s most well-known anti-death-penalty activists, speaking to us from Oklahoma, she was to be one of the witnesses at Richard Glossip’s execution, but he was not killed.