The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Monday stayed the executions of two death row inmates, just one day before one of the men was scheduled for lethal injection.
Clayton Derrell Lockett’s execution had been set for 6 p.m Tuesday.
In March, a district judge agreed with attorneys representing Lockett, 38, and Charles Frederick Warner, 46, that it was unconstitutional for the state to keep secret its source of the drugs it will use to execute the two men.
The state has yet to reveal its source, pending a ruling on their appeal to the district court decision. Lockett and Warner have been asking for a stay until their case is fully litigated, which the state Supreme Court granted in its ruling.
The 5-4 ruling came after the state Supreme Court had twice told the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals it had the jurisdiction to delay the executions. Both times, the criminal appeals court denied it had that authority. In total, the request for a stay bounced between four different state and federal courts.
“Here, the Court of Criminal Appeals’ refused to exercise its rightfully placed jurisdiction, and left this Court in an awkward position,” the justices wrote in their decision. “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.”
Attorneys for the inmates expressed relief Monday afternoon.
“I’m glad that they finally did what they were forced to do,” said Seth Day, one of the attorneys representing the inmates. Day was worried the state was going to proceed with Lockett’s execution before the case was fully resolved.
Lockett was convicted of the 1999 murder of Stephanie Neiman, 19, in Perry.
Lockett shot Neiman twice with a shotgun before having an accomplice, Shawn Mathis, bury her alive.
“I could see the dirt coming in the air as she was coughing,” Lockett said in a taped confession. “So, he kept on putting dirt over her and everything, then I couldn’t hear her coughing or choking no more. It was muffled. Then, I heard him patting the dirt down.”
Mathis, 41, is serving life for his involvement in Neiman’s murder.
Warner was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of his live-in girlfriend’s 11 month-old daughter, Adrianna Waller.
At Lockett’s final clemency hearing before the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, Neiman’s parents, Steve and Susie Neiman, said they were supporters of the death penalty and believed it should be used in this case, but the couple declined to comment on whether the state owes their daughter’s killer a painless death.