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Oklahoma death row prisoner Anthony Castillo Sanchez, who is scheduled for execution on Sept. 21, received a “small victory” this week after a district judge granted him access to evidence in his case. He’s asking the Governor to grant him a 60-day stay so that his legal counsel can review the evidence.
Sanchez faces a lethal injection execution after he was convicted of first-degree murder and rape of 21-year-old University of Oklahoma dance student Jewell “Juli Busken.
For decades Sanchez has maintained his innocence, but multiple appeals have been denied. In April, he appealed again. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals rejected his claim that his father confessed to the murder before committing suicide.
In August, Sanchez asked a district court to order his former legal counsel to turn over 51 boxes of evidence in his case to his new counsel.
Yet, U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton refused to turn them over.
On September 8, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals weighed in, asking the judge to reconsider his decision. Judge Heaton reversed his decision on Wednesday, allowing the evidence to be turned over to Sanchez’ new legal counsel.
Despite doubts, supporters of death row prisoner Anthony Sanchez march on
Meanwhile, Judge Heaton made clear his doubt in Sanchez’ innocence when he denied the request to delay the execution for 60 days.
“Petitioner’s argument is entirely speculative — that he might be able to identify some new issue once his new counsel looks through the case materials,” the judge wrote.
Nevertheless, the quickly-approaching execution date hasn’t stopped supporters of Sanchez from rallying behind him.
Enacting a week of action, the anti-death group Death Penalty Action submitted a letter from Sanchez to Governor Stitt on Wednesday, after leading a 120-mile march to the Oklahoma State Capitol.
“We have new evidence coming in daily; We have new lawyers that are just getting familiar with the case,” Sanchez wrote to Gov. Stitt. “We are asking for a 60-day reprieve because we believe that such a simple act could avert a profound evil: The execution of an innocent man.”
To read the full letter, click here.
Spiritual advisor says race plays a role, executions violate tribal sovereignty
After waiving his right to a clemency hearing, and in a state that has become a leader in executions, the chance of Anthony Sanchez being spared from a state-sanctioned killing remains low. Yet supporters of his innocence and groups opposed to the death penalty continue to fight for his life.
Although Judge Heaton already denied Sanchez’ request for a stay, Gov. Stitt has the executive authority to grant it himself.
Back in February, Anthony Sanchez’ spiritual advisor Rev. Jeff Hood told The Black Wall Street Times he believes race plays a role in his case.
“This case is one in which you have this man coming from a Choctaw and Hispanic background who is accused of killing a beautiful white ballerina, University of Oklahoma student, and it’s a situation where I feel like he was railroaded,” Hood said.
A recent study from Death Penalty Information Center that analyzed 9,700 death sentences found they continue to be arbitrary and racially biased.
Notably, in Oklahoma, state prosecutors are more likely to call for the death penalty in a crime where the victim is white and less likely to call for it in when the victim is an ethnic minority, according to a 2017 report from the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.
Rev. Hood also drew attention to the fact that the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, where executions take place, sits on Choctaw land.
“It is a fundamental violation of Tribal sovereignty for these executions to be taking place on Choctaw land,” Rev. Hood told The Black Wall St. Times.
Investigator asks Governor for more time to review Anthony Sanchez case
David Ballard is chief investigator in the Anthony Sanchez case. In a statement this week he asked Gov. Stitt to grant the 60-day stay of the execution to give him time to build his case.
“While I wholeheartedly believe in his innocence, I’m not asking the Governor to proclaim Sanchez innocent. As the chief investigator on the Sanchez case, I’m simply asking for the opportunity to investigate a wide variety of new evidence that has been revealed in recent weeks, even as more new evidence continues to come in,” Ballard said.
“If the Governor exercises his power to grant a 60-day reprieve, I have no doubt that my team will be able to engage the totality of the evidence before Sanchez could be rescheduled for execution.”