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Death row inmate was feet from death chamber when reprieve came

McALESTER, Okla. -- Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip was just minutes away from his scheduled lethal injection, stripped of all his belongings in a holding cell just a few feet from the state's death chamber, when he learned his execution had once again been delayed.

"I'm just standing there in just my boxers," Glossip, who claims he's innocent, told reporters in a telephone interview from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. "They wouldn't tell me anything. Finally someone came up and said I got a stay."

For the second time in as many weeks, Glossip on Wednesday received a last-minute stay of execution - this time a 37-day delay from Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin after prison officials said one of the three drugs they had received to carry out the lethal injection was the wrong one.

Oklahoma's protocols call for the use of potassium chloride, but the state received potassium acetate instead. State law prohibits prison officials from revealing the drugs' supplier. While the drugs treat similar medical conditions, Oklahoma officials didn't know whether the potassium acetate was an appropriate substitute in an execution.

Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said Wednesday that the Department of Corrections receives its lethal injection drugs on the day of an execution. But state officials had written to the local federal public defender's office in August to say prison officials had found the needed drugs.

"I have received confirmation from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections that sufficient drugs to carry out the executions ... have been obtained," Assistant Attorney General John D. Hadden wrote in a letter Aug. 11.

The Corrections Department reached out immediately to the attorney general's office after realizing the mistake, Weintz said.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt's office received word of the drug mix-up "shortly before" Glossip's scheduled execution Wednesday and advised that Oklahoma's lethal injection guidelines, which had been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, had to be followed, said Pruitt spokesman Aaron Cooper.

"It is unclear why, and extremely frustrating to the attorney general, that the Department of Corrections did not have the correct drugs to carry out the execution," Cooper said.

Glossip's lawyer, Dale Baich, said Wednesday that Oklahoma has had months to prepare.

"Today's events only highlight how more transparency and public oversight in executions is sorely needed," he said.

The state's execution protocols call for the prison's death row section chief to ensure the drugs are ordered, arrive as scheduled and are properly stored after the execution date is set, which in Glossip's case happened two weeks ago.

Fallin on Wednesday reset Glossip's execution for Nov. 6, saying it would give the state enough time to determine whether potassium acetate is a suitable substitute, or to find a supply of potassium chloride.

Oklahoma's protocols call for the use of midazolam at the start of an execution. It is followed by vecuronium bromide, which halts an inmate's breathing, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

According to the National Institutes of Health, potassium acetate and potassium chloride both can be used in medical settings to treat low levels of potassium, which helps regulate heart rhythms, blood pressure and kidney function. NIH literature did not compare the drugs' effectiveness when used in death chambers.

The governor's office said Wednesday it did not know whether potassium acetate ever had been used in an execution. A database maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death penalty group, does not show potassium acetate among any state's drug protocols.

Hours before Glossip was scheduled to be executed Sept. 16 for ordering the 1997 killing of Barry Van Treese, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals granted a rare two-week reprieve to review his claims of new evidence, including another inmate's assertion that he overheard former motel handyman Justin Sneed admit to framing Glossip.

The Van Treese family, in a statement to The Associated Press, said: "The only response we can muster at this juncture is a collective 'unbelievable.'

"We continue to have faith that it will, at some point, be finished."

Glossip, 52, has long claimed he was framed by Sneed, who admitted to fatally beating Van Treese with a baseball bat, but said he did so only after Glossip promised him $10,000. Sneed, who is serving a life sentence, was the state's key witness against Glossip in two separate trials.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court this week both rejected Glossip's requests for a stay - with justices acting just minutes before Glossip was due to die.

"This will allow us time to review the current drug protocol and answer any questions we might have about the drug protocol," Oklahoma Corrections Director Robert Patton told reporters before walking away without taking questions.

Patton took over as head of corrections in January 2014. That April, Clayton Lockett writhed and struggled against his restraints after an intravenous line was improperly placed. Lockett died 43 minutes after his lethal injection started.

Glossip has been the lead plaintiff in a separate case challenging the use of midazolam, saying the sedative cannot adequately render an inmate unconscious before other drugs kick in. They said Oklahoma risked violating the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, but the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 in June to approve the sedative.

Oklahoma says it expects two executions set for Oct. 7 and 28 to occur as scheduled.

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