Oklahoma death row inmate who killed a bank guard is incompetent for execution, judge says

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma judge has ruled that a death row inmate is incompetent to be executed after the prisoner received mental evaluations by psychologists for both defense attorneys and state prosecutors.

Pittsburg County District Judge Tim Mills wrote Thursday that both psychologists found that Wade Greely Lay, 63, lacks a “rational understanding” of why he is to be executed.

“Given Mr. Lay's present state of incompetence, the court finds that Mr. Lay may not be executed at this time,” Mills wrote in an order signed by defense attorneys and state and local prosecutors.

Under Oklahoma law, an inmate is mentally incompetent to be executed if they are unable to have a rational understanding of the reason they are being executed or that their execution is imminent.

Defense attorney Callie Heller said the ruling is a relief.

“Wade firmly believes that his execution is part of a wide-ranging government conspiracy aimed at silencing him,” Heller said in a statement.

Mills ordered that Lay undergo mental health treatment in an effort to restore his sanity, which Heller said is unlikely.

"Given the duration and severity of Mr. Lay’s mental illness and his deterioration in recent years, he is unlikely to become competent in the future,” according to Heller.

Lay, who represented himself at trial, was convicted and sentenced to death for the May 2004 shooting death of bank guard Kenneth Anderson when he and his then-19-year-old son attempted to rob a Tulsa bank.

His son, Christopher Lay, was sentenced to life without parole for his role in the attempted robbery.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals is expected to issue a formal stay of the execution within days, according to Phil Bacharach, spokesperson for Attorney General Gentner Drummond.

“The attorney general is disappointed by the delay, as the family of Kenneth Anderson has waited 20 years for justice to be delivered," Bacharach said.

“In the meantime, the inmate will receive the treatment necessary so that he can eventually be reevaluated and hopefully deemed competent to pay for his crime,” according to Bacharach.

Thursday's ruling is the second time this year a court has found an Oklahoma death row mentally inmate incompetent to be executed.

In March, a separate judge ruled the state could not execute 61-year-old James Ryder for his role in the 1999 slayings of a mother and her adult son.

In April, Oklahoma executed Michael Dewayne Smith for the 2002 shooting deaths of two women.

Smith was the first person executed in Oklahoma this year and the 12th put to death since the state resumed executions in 2021 following a nearly seven-year hiatus resulting from problems with executions in 2014 and 2015.

Drummond, the state attorney general, has asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to set execution dates for five additional condemned inmates starting 90 days after Lay's planned execution.