Oklahoma prison officials: Pastor can’t be in death chamber

Jan 8, 2023, 11:34 PM | Updated: Jan 9, 2023, 1:35 pm
FILE - This Feb. 2, 2018, photo provided by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections shows Scott Eize...

FILE - This Feb. 2, 2018, photo provided by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections shows Scott Eizember, who was convicted and sentenced to death in the 2003 murder of AJ Cantrell. Eizember, a death row inmate in Oklahoma who is scheduled to be executed on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, cannot have his spiritual advisor with him inside the execution chamber because of the minister's history of anti-death penalty activism, including an arrest, the Department of Corrections said Monday, Jan. 9. (Oklahoma Department of Corrections via AP, File)

(Oklahoma Department of Corrections via AP, File)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A death row inmate in Oklahoma who is scheduled to be executed on Thursday cannot have his spiritual advisor with him inside the execution chamber because of the minister’s history of anti-death penalty activism, including an arrest, the Department of Corrections said Monday.

Scott Eizember, 61, had requested that his spiritual advisor, the Rev. Jeff Hood of Arkansas, be allowed inside the execution chamber on Thursday during his lethal injection at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. But DOC officials expressed concerns that Hood would not ensure the dignity of the process.

“Out of respect for the families of victims, ODOC will not allow the outbursts of activists to interfere, regardless of that activist’s declared role in this process,” DOC spokesman Josh Ward said in a statement. “The spiritual advisor in this case has been arrested multiple times for such outbursts in other states, demonstrating a blatant disregard for the experiences of victims’ families and the solemnity of the process.”

Ward said Hood would still be allowed to meet with Eizember in the time leading up to his execution and that Hood would be able to witness the execution from another part of the facility via a closed-circuit feed.

Hood and Eizember filed a lawsuit in federal district court on Monday seeking to stop Eizember’s execution until Hood is allowed inside the chamber.

“Basically this is a ‘woke’ preacher versus the Department of Corrections,” Hood said. “We really think this is certainly not just a violation of religious liberty, but also a violation of other First Amendment protections.”

Hood acknowledged his arrest during a peaceful anti-death penalty protest outside a Texas prison in 2016. He said he received a deferred sentence and the case was ultimately expunged from his record.

Hood and Eizember filed a lawsuit in federal district court on Monday seeking to stop Eizember’s execution until Hood is allowed inside the execution chamber. Texas and other states, including Oklahoma, have begun allowing clergy inside the death chamber during executions following a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2021 brought by a death row inmate in Alabama.

Eizember was convicted in the shotgun slayings of an elderly couple in eastern Oklahoma in 2003 and sentenced to death. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-2 last month to reject recommending he be granted clemency.

The first Oklahoma inmate to have his spiritual advisor inside the death chamber was Bigler Stouffer in December 2021. Since then, several inmates have opted to have a minister inside the chamber with them.

___

Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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Oklahoma prison officials: Pastor can’t be in death chamber