WASHINGTON (CN) - The Supreme Court refused on Thursday to stop the execution of an Oklahoma man to give his new attorney more time to review his case.
Anthony Castillo Sanchez, 44, was pronounced dead at 10:19 a.m. Thursday following a three-drug injection at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.
Sanchez was sentenced to death for the 1996 murder of Juli Busken. The University of Oklahoma dance student was 21 years old when she was abducted from her apartment complex. Busken's body was later found at Lake Stanley Draper. She had been bound, sexually assaulted and shot in the head.
The high court declined Sanchez's emergency application and certiorari petition asking for more time for his new attorney to review his case. Justice Neil Gorsuch did not participate in the case.
Despite DNA found at the crime scene, Busken's murder went unsolved for eight years. However, in 2004, investigators got a break in the case. Sanchez's DNA would match sperm found on Busken's clothing at the crime scene after he was sent to prison for a burglary conviction.
Sanchez was convicted of Busken's murder in 2006 and sentenced to death.
Despite the DNA evidence, Sanchez claimed he was innocent. Sanchez challenged his conviction on direct appeal, four post-conviction proceedings and federal habeas review but came up short. In June 2022, Sanchez lost his fight against the state's execution protocol. His execution was then scheduled for Sept. 21.
After facing another loss in proving his innocence in February, Sanchez moved for new counsel. A court found that his representation had been appropriate despite Sanchez's claims that they had abandoned him.
Sanchez's new attorney, who was representing him pro bono, argued the execution needed to be put on pause in order for him to get up to date on the case.
"Clemency or post-conviction counsel under the standards provided by the ABA Guidelines must investigate claims," Eric Allen, an attorney from Ohio, wrote in Sanchez's emergency application before the court. "This cannot be done. Counsel only took possession of the file last Friday."
Allen told the court he would have had to review 50 boxes full of paperwork prior to submitting an appeal to the district court - a task he says is impossible.
"Mr. Sanchez has diligently pursued relief for the alleged Constitutional violations every step of the way in the District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, in the Tenth Circuit, and in the United States Supreme Court, only to be stymied by his own counsel when they refused to provide Mr. Sanchez's own file to him," Allen wrote. "What is more, any delays in resolving this litigation fall solely on that same counsel when they failed to visit or communicate with him for years."
Sanchez alleged that his counsel's refusal to speak with him left him unable to participate in his defense or even review his files.
"Under these circumstances and this timeline, Mr. Sanchez did not unnecessarily delay this litigation," Allen wrote. "The District Court and the Circuit Court both denied applications for a stay. The boxes of information have not been reviewed in total and the questions remains, is Petitioner guilty of killing the victim in this case."
Following the court's order, Allen continued to advocate for the state to pause Sanchez's execution.
"I am deeply saddened by the court's denial of our petition for certiorari and the application for stay," Allen said in an email. "The state of Oklahoma should stay this execution to review and investigate the innocence claim showing it was Sanchez's father who committed this crime."
Oklahoma argued that Sanchez replaced attorneys who represented him for decades four months before his execution even though he did not have any open cases challenging his conviction or sentence.
"Petitioner now wants this Court to stop a lawful execution that has survived nearly twenty years of scrutiny so that he can start over from scratch,"' Jennifer Crabb, Oklahoma's assistant attorney general, wrote in a brief before the court. "The petition is frivolous."
Crabb declined to comment on the justices' order prior to Thursday's execution.
Source: Courthouse News Service