Is Oklahoma about to execute an innocent man?

Richard Glossip is scheduled to be executed by the State of Oklahoma on Wednesday. He was convicted of killing his boss, Barry Van Treese, who was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat at a Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City that Van Treese owned. The only witness against him was the person who confessed to the murder, a 19-year-old named Justin Sneed who worked as a maintenance man at the motel. The Guardian reports,

There is no DNA or nor any fingerprints linking him to the 1997 murder of Van Treese in the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City. His lawyers this week noted that the prosecutors themselves admitted in 2004 that “the physical evidence doesn’t directly implicate Mr Glossip”.

Rather, Glossip was convicted based on the testimony of Justin Sneed, a 19-year-old maintenance worker who, at various points during his police interrogation a week after the murder, said he didn’t know Van Treese, then that he didn’t kill van Treese, then that he had killed him accidentally, and then that he had killed him intentionally, under Glossip’s instruction. Eventually, Sneed agreed to a plea deal in which he would testify against Glossip to save himself from the death penalty.

Transcripts of the police interrogation show Sneed first denied any knowledge of the murder. “I don’t really know what to say about it,” he told investigators, stumbling over a story about his brother before admitting that he robbed Van Treese but “I only meant to knock him out”.

“The thing about it is, Justin, we think – we know that this involves more than just you, okay?” Detective Bob Bemo said to Sneed, later introducing Glossip as a snitch. “You know Rich is under arrest don’t you?… [H]e’s putting it on you the worst.”

Sneed’s story shifted.

“Actually, Rich asked me to kill Barry, that’s what he’d done,” Sneed said, and investigators took the conversation off-camera, where Sneed signed a plea deal.

This is an excellent example of how an innocent person can be wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. A few days ago, Barry Scheck, the co-director of the Innocence Project, wrote a letter to Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin asking her to stop his execution. He asked the right question,

Why would anybody trust this testimony, given by a man like Sneed under the circumstances in which he gave it? But if Sneed was lying about Glossip’s involvement — as he unquestionably lied in his various contradictory statements–then Oklahoma is about to execute an innocent man.

The Death Penalty Information Center has the following update on Richard Glossip:

Former Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn (pictured), former Oklahoma Sooners and Dallas Cowboys football coach Barry Switzer, and John W. Raley, Jr., the former chief federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, have joined with innocence advocates Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, and Samuel Gross, editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, in a letter to Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin urging her to stay the execution of Richard Glossip.

I have long argued that no conviction that is based solely on the uncorroborated testimony of a codefendant or jailhouse snitch should stand. Such a rule is a necessary part of any meaningful criminal justice reform.

26 Responses to Is Oklahoma about to execute an innocent man?

  1. Xena says:

    An Oklahoma appellate court has granted a two week stay of execution for Richard Glossip while it considers motions filed by his attorneys.

  2. girlp says:

    I’m hoping against all hope that this man’s life will be spared, how awful to be killed because of one mans word….what are they going to do when it is proven this man killed no one; they can’t bring him back.

    • Malisha says:

      And the “one man’s word” is the word of a murderer. And, probably, an addict and a thief.

      • girlp says:

        He implicated Glossip to save his own butt that should be enough to reasonable doubt for any jury….where is the evidence showing Glossip was involved.

  3. Trained Observer says:

    Only a lobotomy could solve Kim’s problem … she needs to be shuffled on out of office for failure to comply with the law. Shouldn’t be difficult since she was elected by only a margin of a couple dozen votes in an off year last November. .

    • Malisha says:

      I’m betting the deciding votes didn’t even know who the hell she was; just voted for whoever was already in that position because hey, who cares?

  4. No one would fault Governor Fallin if she granted a 60 day stay in this case. If she refuses, it indicates she hasn’t likely reviewed the material that has convinced hundreds of thousands of people around the world that our state is about to murder an innocent man.

    In 2004, Rick Perry couldn’t be bothered to review exculpatory evidence that arrived on the day Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham. A stay of execution would have given sensible and reasonable judges a chance to review the new evidence. That execution cannot be undone. Oops.

    Governor Fallin won’t seem tough. She will be like George W. Bush and Rick Perry. Tough on criminals, merciless, and wrong.

    This horrible case should be a lesson that our juries should not possess the option of the death penalty. We’ve never learned to wield this terrifying power. Executing Roger Dale Stafford is one thing; executing Richard Glossip is quite another.

    Until Wednesday, hope remains, though.

  5. gblock says:

    I’ve heard something to the effect that Kim Davis claims that the contempt of court order which put her in jail before is only about certain marriage license applications that she denied before. In other words, she claims that any applications that she denies in the future are irrelevant and should not cause he to be sent back to jail.

    In the meantime, one of her deputy/assistant clerks has said that he intends to go on issuing licenses for same-sex marriages, even if he gets in trouble with Kim for doing so. Would this solve the problem for her (at least for the time being), and keep her out of jail, since people will be able to get their marriage licenses?

    • The court’s contempt order was issued because she refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples who had applied for them. The judge lifted it after the deputy clerks issued the licenses. When he released her, he warned her that she would face additional sanctions, if she refused to issue licenses in the future. He will order her back to jail, if she refuses and prevents her deputies from issuing them.

  6. GB says:

    It is not just the use of an uncorroborated accusation, induced by death threats, it’s also that Sneed’s story is contradicted by a witness in the room next door who heard arguing.

    If it was murder-for-hire, an assassination, as the prosecution claim, what was there to argue about?

    And the confessed killer took no actions to avoid being identified as the killer, inconsistent with a planned murder-for-hire.

    It has recently emerged that some jurors rightly didn’t believe this nonsense, but convicted on a “murder by omission” theory – on the basis that the killer confessed to Glossip soon afterwards.

    There are at least two problems with this – firstly Glossip didn’t initially believe Sneed, assuming he was not serious, and secondly the victim was already dead, despite the testimony of the Medical Examiner at the second trial, which was not consistent with the autopsy report.

    Unfortunately, these revelations appear to have come too late to save a patently innocent man from being executed.

  7. I recently completed a Coursera MOOC in wrongful conviction offered by Pennsylvania State U, if I remember the university correctly. It is truly shocking how often prosecutors use unreliable jail snitches to gain convictions. No vote of confidence from me in regard to this case!

  8. CarolMaeWY says:

    The Death Penalty is Unconstitutional in my humble opinion. Our Founding Fathers specified one crime deserving death and that was Treason. All others should not be Cruel and Unusual Punishment. Nothing is more cruel and unusual than death.
    I agree with your legal reasoning in this case and in others. That is the way to argue it in a Court of Law.
    My reason is that it is morally wrong and that won’t persuade anyone. I don’t want the State or Federal Government killing someone in my Country.

  9. ed nelson says:

    flying leap,

  10. ed nelson says:

    Wow!… Glossip, and Sneed… ! There is a couple of weird… Anglopile sounding names.

    We should go back to … Son of Erik, Son of Fred (Fredericksen)… Son of a B or WTF!

    Sneed… ! Shit he should take a fyi’n leap…. What a horrible name!

  11. nancybenefiel says:

    There was a time in this country when the idea of executing an innocent human being was abhorrent to people. Nowadays, they seem to think if in doubt just kill the guy. It’s truly repulsive.

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