National attention is focused on the pending execution of Richard Glossip, and on his potential innocence. As a murder victim's family member, it has always bothered me that the victim and family seem to be a side note. Barry Van Treese, the victim in Glossip's case, was a victim of an awful crime. My heart, and that of my family, aches for his family.
And while I cannot speak for how his family feels, I certainly have every blessing to speak for mine.
My cousin was Debbie Carter, who in 1982 was raped and murdered. 5 years later, Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson were convicted of the crime. Williamson received the death penalty. We had every reason to believe in the convictions. Over the years we suffered through numerous appeals and repeated findings of guilt.
Then my family was delivered a bombshell of information: DNA testing proved that Williamson and Fritz had been wrongfully convicted. We were shocked. Debbie's justice was being ripped away.
We eventually learned that Debbie's case was plagued with unreliable evidence. So what does wrongful conviction feel like from the perspective of the victim or victim's family? At first it looks like disbelief, and justice denied. We later felt a burden of guilt and shame for being led to support the near executions of innocent men.
I know very little about Glossip's case, or if he is truly guilty or innocent. Gov. Mary Fallin stated Glossip "had over 6,000 days to present new evidence," and her spokesman said that, "To say that Glossip has had his day in court is an understatement." In Debbie's case, too, years of trials, retrials and appeals had happened - but the guilty verdict still proved incorrect.
Looking at the evidence, there's no doubt Glossip might be innocent. But it's almost impossible to totally prove. Van Treese and his family deserve justice, but justice won't be served if Glossip is put to death and we find out too late that he is innocent of this crime.
I'm a native Oklahoman. I have had a family member who was brutally murdered, and I grew up believing the death penalty was fair and just. I still struggle with my desire for justice and what I know about wrongful convictions.
Regardless of how you feel about the death penalty, unless we're absolutely sure of Glossip's guilt, it actually threatens justice - and peace of mind - to make the leap to execute him.
We can't be cavalier when it comes to the subject of putting someone to death, and turn a blind eye to information that may make a difference.
Source: Christy Sheppard, The Oklahoman, September 12, 2015
Is Oklahoma About to Execute an Innocent Man?
Dear Governor Mary Fallin:
We urge you to stay the execution of Richard Glossip so that deep concerns about his guilt can be addressed.
On September 16, unless you act, the State of Oklahoma will put Mr. Glossip to death for the murder of Barry Van Treese. Justin Sneed--who by his own admission beat Van Tresse to death with a baseball bat--will not meet that fate.
Why this stunning difference?
Sneed testified at Glossip's trial and said that Glossip persuaded him to do the killing. In return, Sneed was allowed to plead guilty and avoid a death sentence. Sneed's testimony is the only evidence that connects Glossip to this horrendous crime. There's no DNA evidence, no other forensic or physical evidence, no other witnesses. Just Sneed's word.
Did Sneed tell the truth? We don't know, but we do know that he told many lies in this case because his story changed many times.
When he was first questioned by detectives, Sneed said he didn't know anything about the murder. Then he said he didn't kill Mr. Van Treese. Then he admitted that he did but said it was an accident, he only meant to rob him and knock him out. Then, after the detectives told him that they didn't believe he acted alone, that they had Glossip in custody, and that it would be better for him if he gave them another name, Sneed finally said that Richard Glossip got him to kill Barry Van Treese. After getting what they were looking for, the police assured Sneed that this story would help him avoid the death penalty.
That last version led to a deal with the prosecution: Sneed--the admitted killer--testified against Glossip in exchange for a life sentence. As a result, Glossip faces death by lethal injection.
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 writers of this letter have a wide range of professional backgrounds and political perspectives. But we share a deep concern about the integrity of the criminal justice system in Oklahoma and throughout the United States. We are particularly concerned about the danger of executing an innocent man. Could that really happen? In the United States, in 2015?
Yes, it could. It almost certainly has happened--the cases of Cameron Todd Willingham and Carlos Deluna in Texas are troubling examples--and it may well happen again, perhaps as soon as September 16.
The National Registry of Exonerations lists 115 defendants who were sentenced to death and later exonerated and released after new evidence of innocence was discovered. Of those 115 innocent defendants who had been sentenced to death, 29, a quarter of the total, were convicted after another person who was himself a suspect in the murder gave a confession that also implicated the innocent defendant.
Richards Glossip's case is a classic example. Faced with the prospect of execution, anybody would be tempted to lie and shift the blame to someone else if that's what it takes to stay alive. But Justin Sneed isn't just anybody. He's a man who beat another person to death for money and then lied about it to try to save his own skin.
Last year a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that 4.1 percent of defendants who are sentenced to death in the United States are innocent, one in 25 or more than 300 death-sentenced defendants since 1973. Most of them, like most of all defendants who are sentenced to death, have not been exonerated or executed. They remain in prison or have died of other causes.
But with that error rate among death sentences, there's no doubt that we have put innocent people to death. We don't know how many or who they all are, but it has happened.
We also don't know for sure whether Richard Glossip is innocent or guilty. That is precisely the problem.
If we keep executing defendants in cases like this, where the evidence of guilt is tenuous and untrustworthy, we will keep killing innocent people.
Oklahoma has come close to executing innocent defendants. Ron Williamson's story is well known from John Grisham's book, The Innocent Man. He came within 5 days of execution. Fortunately, a federal judge ordered a new trial. 4 years later Williamson was exonerated by DNA tests--which also identified the real killer, who was later convicted of the murder.
Most cases like this are weeded out by the courts, usually before a death sentence is ever imposed. That might have happened here if Glossip's defense attorneys had made the problems in the case clear to the judge and jury, but they never did. As a result, a juror in Glossip's first trial recently came forward and said, "I feel that this situation needs to be looked at and at the VERY least given a 60 days stay to make for certain that all the stones are unturned and everything is looked at with a fine tooth comb."
Unfortunately, Governor, in this case you are the last state official with the power to prevent a deadly mistake.
Sen. Tom Coburn, U.S. Senator for Oklahoma (2005-2015) and U.S. Representative for Oklahoma's Second Congressional District from (1995-2001)
Barry Switzer, Head Football Coach, The University of Oklahoma (1973-1988)
John W. Raley, Jr., U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Oklahoma (1990-1997)
Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project
Samuel Gross, Professor of Law, University of Michigan and Editor, National Registry of Exonerations
Source: Barry Scheck; Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Innocence Project, September 12, 2015
Journalists, death penalty opponent among condemned inmate's requested execution witnesses
Two journalists and an outspoken death penalty opponent are among the execution witnesses for condemned Oklahoma inmate Richard Eugene Glossip.
State Department of Corrections records show Huffington Post reporter Kim Belleware and Sky News reporter Ian Woods are listed among 5 friends of Glossip authorized to witness his execution on Wednesday. Anti-death penalty advocate Sister Helen Prejean is designated as Glossip's clergy witness.
Belleware and Woods both say they were asked by Glossip to attend because of their coverage of his case. They will not be considered among the 5 media witnesses.
Department of Corrections policy provides 1 media spot to a reporter for The Associated Press and another to a media outlet from the city where the crime occurred. The remaining 3 media witnesses are selected by random drawing.
Source: Associated Press, September 12, 2015
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Please write immediately in English or your own language:
* Calling on the Board to rehear Richard Glossip’s case and recommend commutation of his death sentence;
* Calling on the Governor to grant a 60-day reprieve and to urge the Board to reconsider clemency;
* Noting the circumstantial nature of the case against Richard Glossip and that the key evidence against him was the testimony of the person who killed the victim, testimony given to avoid the death penalty;
* Explaining that you are not seeking to downplay the seriousness of the crime or the suffering caused.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 16 SEPTEMBER 2015 TO:
Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board
PO Box 53448, Oklahoma City, OK 73152, USA
Fax: 011 1 405 602-6437
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Salutation: Dear Board members
Governor Mary Fallin
Oklahoma State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd., Room 212
Oklahoma City, OK 73105, USA
Fax: 011 1 405 521-3353
Salutation: Dear Governor
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