By Steve Olafson
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla (Reuters) - Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin granted a 30-day stay of execution on Thursday to a convicted murderer scheduled to be put to death next week so that state attorneys could study whether he should be granted clemency.
Garry Thomas Allen, scheduled for lethal injection on Wednesday, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the 1986 shooting death of his estranged girlfriend. But the state's pardon and parole board recommended his death sentence be commuted to life in prison.
Brad Henry, Oklahoma's Democratic governor at the time of the recommendation, never acted on it, leaving Republican Fallin as the condemned man's last hope, said Alex Weintz, the governor's spokesman.
The 30-day reprieve will give state attorneys time to study the "unique legal circumstances" of the case, said Weintz.
"We are dealing with a man's life and she takes it seriously," Weintz said.
Allen was convicted of killing Gail Titsworth in the parking lot of a day care center while she was picking up the couple's two young sons, according to court documents.
After shooting the woman four times in front of shocked witnesses, Allen was wounded in the head by an Oklahoma City police officer while the two men struggled.
Allen lost his left eye and suffered permanent brain damage from the head wound, according to court records, but a jury found him competent to stand trial in 1987.
Allen then insisted on pleading guilty because he did not want to put his family or the family of his girlfriend through any more hurt, appellate court records show.
More than 10 years after his guilty plea, the issue of competency was raised on appeal by a clinical psychologist who testified Allen's brain injury made him unable to understand or assist in his legal appeals, according to court records.
If Allen is not granted clemency by Fallin, the governor's order calls for him to be executed on March 16.
Oklahoma has the highest rate of executions per capita of population of any state in the nation since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 by the U.S. Supreme Court. The state has executed 97 people since 1976, the latest of which was Gary Welch on January 5, 2012, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
(Editing by Greg McCune)