Oklahoma prisons chief: Minister OK’d inside death chamber

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma prison officials said Wednesday that they will allow an anti-death penalty minister with a history of protest-related arrests inside the execution chamber for Thursday’s lethal injection of death row inmate Scott Eizember.

Department of Corrections Director Steven Harpe said he reversed his earlier decision not to allow the Rev. Jeffrey Hood into the chamber after consulting with the family members of Eizember’s victims. They were concerned that a lawsuit Eizember had filed over the matter could further delay the execution, he said.

“The family members of the victims in this case are ready for closure, and they understand that the lawsuit challenging the decision to deny chamber access to the activist could lead to Thursday’s execution being stayed,” Harpe said in a statement. “Far too often, it is the victim and the victim’s family who are overlooked in these cases. We want to make sure their concerns are heard instead of everything being solely about the inmate.”

The Corrections Department had said Tuesday that it would not allow the Arkansas minister inside the death chamber, saying Hood could pose a security risk because of his history of anti-death penalty activism, including several arrests. Prison officials say Hood has agreed to follow strict guidelines on his actions inside the execution chamber.

As a result of the department’s reversal, Hood said he was withdrawing his federal lawsuit that sought to halt the execution until he was allowed inside the chamber.

“I count it a great honor to have fought for and secured the religious liberty of Scott Eizember and myself,” Hood said in a statement.

Eizember was convicted of killing A.J. Cantrell, 76, and his wife, Patsy Cantrell, 70, in 2003, after prosecutors say the couple returned their home to find Eizember inside keeping watch over his ex-girlfriend’s house across the street. Prosecutors say he went on to commit a series of other crimes across several other states, leading to one of Oklahoma’s largest manhunts before he was ultimately captured in Texas more than a month after the killings.

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