A federal judge in Oklahoma City denied Tuesday a request to lift the third stay of execution for a death row inmate facing lethal injection for killing a 77-year-old man during a 1994 McClain County robbery.
Jeffrey David Matthews' stay of execution was granted last month after defense attorneys raised concerns about the substitution of a never-before-used sedative in the lethal injection procedure. The state Corrections Department wanted to substitute Brevital for sodium thiopental, which is normally used for sedation.
Lawyers with the attorney general's office requested the stay be lifted because the Corrections Department had obtained a dose of sodium thiopental.
While noting the availability of the usual sedative nullified most of Matthews' objections, Judge Stephen P. Friot kept the stay in place until after an Oct. 15 hearing. Friot did so to give Matthews' attorneys a chance to argue any issues they believe have not been addressed. Matthews' stay is set to expire on Oct. 16.
Matthews, 38, of Purcell, was convicted of killing Otis Earl Short and assaulting Short's wife, Minnie Delores Short, whose throat was slashed, during the robbery near Rosedale.
During Tuesday's hearing, Friot also denied a death row inmate's request to join with Matthews in the lawsuit. Donald Ray Wackerly II, 40, of Muldrow, is scheduled to be executed Oct. 14 for the 1996 murder of Pan Sayakhoummane, 51, during a robbery in rural Sequoyah County.
Lawyers with the attorney general's office said while there is only one dose of sodium thiopental, which has been earmarked for Matthews, the Corrections Department plans to use pentobarbital for Wackerly's execution. Veterinarians use pentobarbital for animal euthanasia, and it is the legal drug for physician-assisted suicide in Oregon.
Friot denied Wackerly's request, saying he did not find enough commonality among the issues and that the death row inmates would be arguing about the use of different drugs.
Wackerly's attorney, Susan M. Otto, a federal public defender, would not comment on whether her client will file a separate lawsuit.
Lawsuits, appeals and stays
Matthews, who has exhausted other appeal avenues, 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. Pavatt was having an affair with Andrew's wife, Brenda Andrew, who also was sentenced to death.
Pavatt's lawsuit challenges Oklahoma's lethal injection method on grounds that it is cruel and unusual. During Oklahoma's lethal injection method, the sedative is administered first, followed by a drug that stops breathing and then a drug that stops the heart.
If Matthews' latest challenge is denied, the state Court of Criminal Appeals will set a new execution date.
Gov. Brad Henry has granted two stays of execution to give defense attorneys time to examine fingerprint evidence. Matthews was scheduled for execution first on June 17, then on July 20 and again on Aug. 17.
By Michael Baker