A federal judge issued a stay of execution hours before an Oklahoma death row inmate was scheduled for lethal injection Tuesday.
The stay was issued after defense attorneys raised concerns about the sedative to be injected. It was the third stay of execution for Jeffrey David Matthews, 38.
Matthews, of Purcell, was convicted of killing Otis Earl Short, 77, and assaulting Short's wife, Minnie Delores Short, whose throat was slashed, during a 1994 McClain County burglary.
The Shorts' granddaughter, Carol Cowan, said nine family members were driving to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester on Tuesday to witness the execution when they received a phone call regarding the latest stay.
"We were dreading it (the execution), yet we were hoping today to
Cowan said Tuesday would have been the 71st wedding anniversary for Otis and Minnie Short.
Minnie Short told the family before she died about seven years ago that "You kids need to see that it's carried through for me," Cowan said.
"Well, we're still here, and we're still going on with it," Cowan said.
Third stay granted
Gov. Brad Henry has granted two stays of execution to give defense attorneys time to examine fingerprint evidence. Matthews was scheduled for execution on June 17 and again on July 20.
Federal Judge Stephen P. Friot in Oklahoma City issued the third stay Tuesday after Matthews joined in a lawsuit filed by another death row inmate and challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty.
Matthews' attorneys objected to the Corrections Department's substitution of one of the drugs used in Oklahoma's execution process.
The department wanted to substitute Brevital, a form of methohexital sodium, for sodium thiopental, which is normally used for sedation. During lethal injection, the sedative is administered first, followed by a drug that stops breathing and then a drug that stops the heart.
The Corrections Department was substituting the sedative because of worries about the purity of thiopental on hand, department spokesman Jerry Massie said.
In papers filed with the court, the Federal Public Defenders office argued the substitute has never been used in an execution, is experimental and there is no proof it is a humane alternative.
The state thinks the drug is in compliance with state statute that says the sedative must be "ultrashort-acting barbiturate," said Charlie Price, spokesman for Attorney General Drew Edmondson's office.
In issuing the 60-day stay, Friot noted the Corrections Department learned in mid-July the dose of sodium thiopental intended for the execution had expired. Friot further noted that more thiopental could not be obtained and Matthews' attorneys only learned about the substitution on Monday.
Friot set a hearing for Oct. 15. If the execution is allowed to happen, a new date would likely be set for about 30 days, Price said.
Matthews intervened in a case filed in February by James Pavatt, who was convicted of killing Rob Andrew to get the proceeds of an insurance policy. At the time, Pavatt was having an affair with Andrew's wife, Brenda Andrew, who also was sentenced to death.
A family waits
Matthews has maintained his innocence in letters to media and a prison interview, which was conducted by Los Angeles actress Victoria Redstall and posted on YouTube.
Cowan said the family of the Shorts has grown weary of Matthews' claims, the publicity and the delays.
"With him on death row, I don't understand how in the world he is on YouTube," Cowan said. "We want to get this over with."
Matthews was convicted of being one of two men who entered into the Shorts' home near Rosedale on Jan. 27, 1994, along with Tracy Dyer. According to prosecutors and trial testimony, Matthews shot Otis Short once in the head, and Dyer cut Minnie Short's throat.
Items taken during the robbery were found in Matthews' home, prosecutors said, and the pistol used to shoot Short was found buried behind the Matthews home.
Dyer, 37, was convicted of first-degree murder and other charges at a separate trial and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.