The actress has spent the past few months campaigning with her Dead Man Walking inspiration Sister Helen Prejean to stop officials going ahead with Richard Glossip's death in a case which closely mirrors the plot of her 1995 movie.

Glossip was handed the death penalty in 1988 for his part in the slaying of a man in an Oklahoma motel in 1977. Another male confessed to the baseball bat murder, but told investigators that Glossip, the motel's handyman, had paid him to commit the act.

He was granted a two-week emergency stay of execution on 16 September (15), and on Wednesday morning, it emerged the Pope's U.S. representative, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, had sent a letter to Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, urging her to commute Glossip's sentence.

The message, dated 19 September (15), read in part: "Together with Pope Francis, I believe that a commutation of Mr. Glossip's sentence would give clearer witness to the value and dignity of every person's life, and would contribute to a society more cognizant of the mercy that God has bestowed upon us all.

"Please be assured of my prayers for you as you carry out your honorable office. May God guide your prayerful consideration of this request by Pope Francis for what I believe would be an admirable and just act of clemency."

A second stay was denied by U.S. Supreme Court judges on Wednesday afternoon, but as Glossip's family prepared to say goodbye, Governor Fallin stepped in to halt the execution.

She granted a 37-day stay to allow state officials to review drug protocols.

The news emerges hours after Kelly Gissandaner became the first woman to be executed in Georgia in 70 years. She was put to death late on Tuesday (29Sep15) after being held responsible for the murder of her husband in 1997. Archbishop Vigano also made a last-minute appeal for clemency in her case on behalf of the Pope.