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Attorney: Pastor will be permitted in death chamber

This photo shows the gurney in the execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla., on Oct. 9, 2014.
Sue Ogrocki
This photo shows the gurney in the execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla., on Oct. 9, 2014.

Updated Wednesday 1/11 at 8:32 a.m.

Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood will be permitted in the execution chamber to offer religious comfort to death row inmate Scott Eizember during his scheduled execution at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester on Thursday, Hood’s attorney Randall Coyne told Public Radio Tulsa Wednesday morning.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections and Hood came to an agreement on Tuesday, according to court documents saying a settlement was reached. As part of the agreement, Hood will be allowed to minister to Eizember as the inmate receives a lethal injection, Coyne said. ODOC had barred Hood for a previous arrest during an anti-death penalty protest.

The settlement notice from Coyne says more details will be provided to the court Wednesday.

The story from Wednesday morning:

A pastor who’s spoken out against the death penalty said the Oklahoma Department of Corrections is wrong to bar clergy from the state's death chamber for an upcoming execution.

Derrick Scobey, senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, said ODOC’s decision to deny Scott Eizember's request for clergy to be present during his lethal injection scheduled for Thursday violates a Biblical imperative spelled out in Matthew 25:36 saying prisoners should receive ministry.

“It’ll be those who are leading the Department of Corrections, and those who call themselves Christians, they will have to answer to Jesus about why did they not allow for this pastor to be there during the last moments of life. It’s not right,” said Scobey.

Last week, ODOC rejected Eizember's request to have Arkansas Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood present in the death chamber at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. According to the Associated Press, a spokesman for ODOC said the reason was that Hood was arrested at an anti-death penalty protest. Hood said his conviction was later expunged.

Scobey, who was also arrested at an anti-death penalty protest and saw the charges dismissed, said he doesn’t know where the line is drawn with ODOC.

“I mean, where does it stop? So it’s okay for an Oklahoma pastor to go in, but it’s not okay for an Arkansas pastor to go in because you don’t feel like you’re going to get as much pushback? It’s wrong,” said Scobey.

In an interview with Public Radio Tulsa, Hood, who said his work focuses on prisoners nearing their death dates, said he wasn’t planning to disrupt Eizember’s execution because it would be too great a risk for too little reward.

“My children, my family, my wife, my ability to minister to all these other guys. I have four to six other guys in line wanting me to do this for them in the next year and a half. Why would I jeopardize all of that in order to make a momentary scene? That’s the ludicrous part of this. Nobody’s going to stop an execution,” said Hood.

In a federal lawsuit filed against ODOC over the denial, Hood notes his spiritual advisor status to four OSP prisoners. The lawsuit says he submitted to a background check for visitations.

“Dr. Hood apparently was not enough of a security concern to prevent him from entering the prison and interacting with prisoners such as Mr. Eizember,” reads Hood’s lawsuit.

Spiritual advisors in the death chamber are a recent concession in Oklahoma and other states following a Supreme Court ruling on the matter. ODOC didn't respond to questions around criteria for clergy.

“Their argument of course is that I’m an activist and I have a history of social justice work. My argument is very much that social justice work is what makes me a follower of Jesus. Jesus was an activist,” said Hood.

Eizember was convicted in the killings of an elderly couple in Creek County in 2003 and sentenced to death. The state parole board voted 3-2 last month to reject clemency.

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.