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, the AP reports. 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.
"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," Harpe said. The Corrections Department said Tuesday that it would not allow the minister inside the death chamber, saying he 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.
Eizember was convicted of killing AJ Cantrell, 76, and his wife, Patsy Cantrell, 70, in 2003. Prosecutors said the couple returned to their home to find Eizember inside keeping watch over his ex-girlfriend's house across the street. After killing the couple, he walked across the street and entered his ex-girlfriend's home, shot her son in the back, and attacked her mother. Both survived. Prosecutors said Eizember 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. (Read more execution stories.)