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Death-row stay of execution granted in Oklahoma

12 May 2023


Sister Helen Prejean, an opponent of the death penalty, speaks to the press in Oklahoma last week, in a repeated attempt to halt the planned execution of Richard Glossip

Sister Helen Prejean, an opponent of the death penalty, speaks to the press in Oklahoma last week, in a repeated attempt to halt the planned execution...

A STAY of execution has been granted to a prisoner in Oklahoma after being urged by a coalition, which included Christian leaders, celebrities, and even state lawmakers.

Richard Glossip, aged 60, was scheduled for the third time to be put to death on 18 May, after 26 years on death row after being convicted of ordering the murder of his boss, Barry Van Treese. The man who admitted to killing Mr Van Treese, Justin Sneed, was sentenced to life in prison after testifying against Glossip. Glossip has always said that he is innocent of the crime.

An independent investigation commissioned by the state’s Republican attorney-general, Gentner Drummond, concluded that he should be given a new trial owing to errors during the original proceedings. A parole-board hearing was split last month on whether to grant clemency. A retired Oklahoma bishop, Dr Ed Konieczny, is a member of the board and voted for clemency.

The US Supreme Court, ruling last Friday, has now blocked the execution indefinitely.

The Bishop of Oklahoma, the Rt Revd Poulson Reed, said that he supported the stay of execution. He signed a statement last year, along with 25 Christian leaders, opposing Oklahoma’s scheduling of 25 executions over the past two years (News, 18 November). The statement said: “As Christians and Oklahomans, we have grave concerns about this action. Given the current reality of our state’s criminal justice system, our shared convictions regarding the sanctity of human life and the proper function of state power lead us to call for an immediate moratorium on the death penalty in Oklahoma.

“As Christians who worship a wrongfully executed Saviour, we are confronted with a serious moral query: What is the number of innocent people we are willing to kill in order to maintain our practice of capital punishment?” the statement asked. “We cannot imagine that Jesus would want us to sacrifice even one innocent life to preserve such a system.”

A rally of Christians opposed to execution was held at the State Capitol building on 4 May, just days before the stay of execution was granted. The Vicar of St John’s Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City, the Revd Nathan Carr, attended the rally.

He told the Episcopal News Service: “Even criminals must be given opportunities for restorative justice. That may include a life-without-parole situation, so that society is safe, but that also gives time for amendment of life, as the old Prayer Book adage would say. It gives an opportunity for God to be at work in life.”

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