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Glossip, pushing innocence, wins Supreme Court execution stay

Oklahoma warned the justices against doing the unthinkable: requiring a state to conduct an execution based on a conviction it no longer supports.

WASHINGTON (CN) — An Oklahoma man who has for decades maintained his innocence in a murder-for-hire plot secured temporary relief from execution on Friday as the Supreme Court considers hearing his appeal. 

Richard Glossip has spent 25 years on death row fighting his conviction in a murder-for-hire plot and has maintained his innocence, despite coming close enough to his execution date to have his last meal three times. 

The court granted his emergency appeal to block his execution while they consider his petitions for certiorari. If his petitions are granted, the stay will extend until the court issues a ruling. If, however, the justices decline to hear his case, the stay will terminate immediately. 

Presenting a rare case to the Supreme Court, Oklahoma does not oppose Glossip’s appeal to block his execution. In fact, the state said if the court failed to intervene, the unthinkable could occur. 

“Absent this Court’s intervention, an execution will move forward under circumstances where the Attorney General has already confessed error — a result that would be unthinkable,” Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond wrote. “In those unprecedented circumstances, this Court should grant the application for a stay of execution.” 

Glossip faces the death penalty for the death of his boss, Barry Van Treese. The motel owner at a Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City was bludgeoned to death in a hotel room by 19-year-old Justin Sneed. While Sneed does not deny his role in Van Treese’s murder, he claims Glossip instigated the crime.

Along with Sneed, police arrested Glossip, who at the time was the hotel’s manager. Investigators originally claimed Glossip helped Sneed cover up the murder but, after questioning Sneed, Glossip was charged with hiring Sneed to murder Van Treese. 

Sneed, who was addicted to methamphetamine, did not initially pin blame on Glossip. Detectives urged Sneed to confess after he was arrested, telling him they knew he did it but also thought he had help. The officers specifically brought up Glossip, telling Sneed: “So he’s the one” — referring to Glossip — and continued, “Rich is trying to save himself by saying that you’re in this by yourself.” 

Oklahoma charged Glossip solely based on Sneed’s testimony. The state offered to drop the death penalty if Glossip pleaded guilty but he maintained his innocence. Sneed accepted the state’s offer, however, and agreed to testify against Glossip. 

Glossip was convicted by a jury in 1998 and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed in a 3-2 vote. In 2000 he was awarded a second trial after proving that his first attorney failed to provide him with a minimal defense. But the second trial left Glossip back at square one when the jury returned another death penalty conviction. 

Unbeknownst to Glossip, the police department was actively preventing him from clearing his name. An independent investigation of the case revealed that officers were told by the district attorney’s office to destroy key pieces of evidence. The potentially exculpatory documents were found to be deliberately destroyed by a 28-year veteran on the force. 

State lawmakers commissioned the independent report conducted by a team of over 30 attorneys, three investigators and two paralegals. They reviewed tens of thousands of documents and interviewed 36 witnesses. After over 3,000 hours of work, the investigation concluded Glossip was likely innocent. 

Just last year, Glossip’s attorneys were provided with a memo that suggested Sneed’s testimony in Glossip’s second trial was manipulated to fit prosecutors’ theory of the case. The memo also suggested Sneed wanted to recant his testimony. 

In more recent months, Glossip was provided with a final box of evidence that included a memo proving Sneed had lied about medications he was on while testifying. Sneed was being treated for a serious psychiatric disorder and was prescribed lithium. 

The state filed a motion to vacate Glossip’s conviction after the independent investigation cast serious doubts about its validity. Members of the state Legislature came out along with Drummond to fight Glossip’s conviction. 

Despite these efforts, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals upheld his conviction, and the state pardon and parole board rejected his clemency request. 

Follow @KelseyReichmann
Categories / Appeals, Civil Rights, Criminal, Government

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