By Heide Brandes
OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - An Oklahoma appeals court on Wednesday halted the planned execution of a murderer three hours before he was to be put to death, granting a two-week delay to consider evidence the inmate's lawyers say points to his innocence.
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals set Sept. 30 as the new execution date for Richard Glossip.
"Due to Glossip's last-minute filing, and in order for this court to give fair consideration to the materials included with his subsequent application for post-conviction relief, we hereby grant an emergency stay of execution for two weeks," it said.
Glossip, 52, was found guilty of arranging the 1997 murder of the owner of an Oklahoma City motel he was managing.
Republican Governor Mary Fallin said on Tuesday her legal team examined the evidence and determined it was not substantial enough to warrant a stay of execution.
"Court is the proper place for Richard Glossip and his legal team to argue the merits of his case. My office will respect whatever decision the court makes, as we have throughout this process," Fallin said after the stay was issued.
Glossip's lawyers said no physical evidence tied him to the crime and he was convicted largely on the testimony of Justin Sneed, then 19 and the motel’s maintenance man, who confessed to carrying out the killing after Glossip hired him to do it.
Sneed avoided the death penalty by testifying against Glossip and is serving a life sentence.
The owner of the Best Budget Inn, Barry Van Treese, was bludgeoned to death in 1997. Glossip was convicted and sentenced to death in 1998.
An appeals court had thrown out a previous conviction, saying evidence against Glossip was "extremely weak." The case went back to a jury in 2004, which found him guilty and upheld the death sentence.
Glossip previously had tried to stop his execution by saying one of the drugs used in the state's lethal injection mix can cause undue suffering.
Glossip's execution would be the first in Oklahoma since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June the use of midazolam, a sedative in the lethal injection procedure, did not violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Lawyers for Glossip and two other Oklahoma death row inmates had challenged midazolam, saying it could not achieve the level of unconsciousness required for surgery, making it unsuitable for executions.
(Reporting by Heide Brandes; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)