Faced with conflicting orders, Gov. Mary Fallin delayed Tuesday’s scheduled execution of a convicted murderer.
Her executive order is the latest development in what the attorney general’s office calls a judicial crisis.
At issue is who has the authority to say when an Oklahoma death row inmate can be executed.
The state Court of Criminal Appeals had ordered convicted murderer Clayton Derrell Lockett to be executed Tuesday for the 1999 murder of Stephanie Neiman.
However, a divided Oklahoma Supreme Court, for the first time in state history, blocked the execution in an order Monday.
In her executive order, Fallin said Supreme Court justices acted outside their constitutional authority, but she was delaying Lockett’s execution for seven days anyway.
She directed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to seek guidance from the Court of Criminal Appeals on what to do next.
Normally, in Oklahoma’s judicial system, the state Supreme Court handles only civil matters, and the Court of Criminal Appeals handles criminal matters. Only Oklahoma and Texas have such a bifurcated system.
The Supreme Court on Monday delayed Lockett’s execution and another murderer’s execution after the Court of Criminal Appeals twice refused to issue stays.
“Here, the Court of Criminal Appeals’ refused to exercise its rightfully placed jurisdiction, and left this Court in an awkward position,” the Supreme Court majority justices wrote in the decision Monday. “We can deny jurisdiction, or we can leave the appellants with no access to the courts for resolution of their ‘grave’ constitutional claims. As uncomfortable as this matter makes us, we refuse to violate our oaths of office and to leave the appellants with no access to the courts, their constitutionally guaranteed measure.”
The Supreme Court stayed the executions of Lockett and Charles Frederick Warner until a case over the execution drugs that they filed against the state is resolved. The judicial dispute leaves open the possibility the executions could go forward, even though the Supreme Court has ordered them stayed.
Fallin’s action stays Lockett’s execution until April 29. The Court of Criminal Appeals has scheduled Warner’s execution for the same day, April 29. Fallin’s executive order does not mention Warner’s execution.
“The second execution will not be affected and the governor does not expect to issue a stay,” governor’s spokesman Alex Weintz said in an email.
Lockett, 38, and Warner, 46, sued the state in January over concerns a law allowing the state’s source of lethal injection drugs to remain secret kept them from knowing whether or not their civil rights would be violated. Attorneys for the men contended that rising concerns over the purity of compounded drugs likely to be used in the executions gave them reason to believe the injections could cause pain, resulting in cruel and unusual punishment.
An Oklahoma County judge agreed with the attorneys in March, finding the law restricted access to the courts and was therefore unconstitutional.
However, the judge transferred the stay of execution request to the Court of Criminal Appeals. It then bounced between that court and the state Supreme Court several times.
The state has yet to reveal the source of its drugs, pending a decision on an appeal of the Oklahoma County judge’s ruling.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to reconsider Monday’s ruling.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt asked for the rehearing, saying the Oklahoma Constitution grants the state Supreme Court jurisdiction over civil cases and the criminal appeals court jurisdiction over criminal cases.
“In 107 years, there has never been any real dispute over what that means. Indeed, this Court has spent the last century emphasizing to criminal defendants that it has absolutely no power to stay enforcement of criminal judgments,” assistant attorneys general wrote. “This Court’s ruling clearly contradicted the spirit, letter and purpose between two co-equal courts.”
One Supreme Court justice, Steven Taylor, strongly disagreed with blocking the executions.
“The Appellants have maneuvered this Court right where they set out to put us and that is, for the first time in this Court’s relevant history, in the middle of a death penalty appeal. We have never been here before and we have no jurisdiction to be here now,” Taylor wrote Monday.