|The Best Budget inn where Van Treese was bludgeoned to death by Justin Sneed|
Death row prisoner Richard Glossip is slated to be executed this afternoon [This article was originally published on Sept. 30, 2015. Richard Glossip was granted a 37-day reprieve minutes before being executed by lethal injection]. An Oklahoma court recently rejected a request for a new hearing in the case. In 1997, Glossip was working as a manager at the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City when his boss, Barry Van Treese, was murdered. A maintenance worker, Justin Sneed, admitted he beat Van Treese to death with a baseball bat, but claimed Glossip offered him money and job opportunities for the killing. The case rested almost solely on Sneed's claims. No physical evidence ever tied Glossip to the crime. In recent months, 2 men who served time in jail with Sneed have come forward saying Sneed framed Glossip to avoid the death penalty himself. On Monday, the court ruled this evidence "merely builds upon evidence previously presented to the court," and rejected a stay of execution. More than 240,000 people have signed a petition to spare Glossip's life. We're joined on the phone by 2 guests: Don Knight, 1 of the pro bono attorneys representing death row inmate Richard Glossip, and Sister Helen Prejean, one of the world's most well-known anti-death-penalty activists. As a Catholic nun, she began her prison ministry over 30 years ago. She is the author of the best-selling book, "Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty."
JUAN GONZALEZ: Death row prisoner Richard Glossip is slated to be executed this afternoon. An Oklahoma court recently rejected a request for a new hearing in the case. In 1997, Glossip was working as a manager at the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City when his boss, Barry Van Treese, was murdered. A maintenance worker, Justin Sneed, admitted he beat Van Treese to death with a baseball bat, but claimed Glossip offered him money and job opportunities for the killing. The case rested almost solely on Sneed's claims. No physical evidence ever tied Glossip to the crime.
In recent months, 2 men who served time in jail with Sneed have come forward saying Sneed framed Glossip to avoid the death penalty himself. On Monday, the court ruled this evidence, quote, "merely builds upon evidence previously presented to the court," and it rejected a stay of execution. More than 240,000 people have signed a petition to spare Glossip's life.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we're joined on the telephone by 2 guests: Don Knight, one of the pro bono attorneys representing death row prisoner Richard Glossip, and Sister Helen Prejean, one of the world's most well-known anti-death-penalty activists. As a Catholic nun, she began her prison ministry over 30 years ago. She's the author of the best-selling book, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty.
Don Knight, let's start with you. You're both in Oklahoma about to head over to the prison, where Richard Glossip is right now scheduled to die 3:00 p.m. Oklahoma time. Can you tell us what the latest is, what you have filed to try to prevent his execution and why you are contending he's an innocent man?
DON KNIGHT: Well, thank you, Amy and Juan, for having us on your program this morning. This is obviously a very, very important issue for everyone today.
We have filed 2 matters that are pending right now. One is with the governor here, Mary Fallin. We have once again asked her for a 60-day stay of execution, so that we can have an opportunity to get back in front of the clemency board and ask once again for clemency for Richard Glossip, with our new evidence as the basis for the clemency claim.
The second issue is pending in front of the United States Supreme Court this morning on a writ asking the court to grant a stay and give us an opportunity for a hearing. The basis for our claim in front of the Supreme Court is, first off, that Richard Glossip is innocent. There just doesn't seem to be any doubt, and all of the doubt that has ever been in this case seems to be disappearing very quickly, because we have really uncovered evidence that Justin Sneed is just simply categorically unreliable. He remains so today. In a recent interview that he gave, he lied several times in the interview, made up new facts just simply to fit whatever narrative he had going on that particular day. This was an interview with a woman reporter from a magazine called The Frontier. But his testimony has been pretty unreliable ever since the first time he ever opened his mouth with the police. He told 4 different stories just in 1 interview way back in 1997. So our basis is the fact that the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution requires reliability and fairness in capital cases. And in this particular case, there is simply no reliability. And if he is to be executed today, there is simply no fairness in the Eighth Amendment.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Don Knight, what are the key - the key aspects of the new evidence that you are claiming needs to be reviewed?
DON KNIGHT: Well, we have uncovered information, and this is new evidence from three individuals. The first one, just sort of in time, is the man who was selling Justin Sneed drugs. Justin Sneed was portrayed as being somebody who was simply a drifter, sort of a loner, but he didn't have a real drug problem, he just occasionally used drugs, kind of a lazy guy hanging around the motel, and he was somehow subject to the whims of Mr. Glossip, who had some control over him. The drug dealer will testify, actually, that Justin Sneed was your basic meth head. He was constantly using the drug, using it intravenously, stealing from cars, stealing from motel rooms. And that's exactly what happened here. He went into the motel room and beat Barry Van Treese to death in an attempt to get his car key so that he could take money from the car. He did not need to be, nor was he directed to do so by Richard Glossip.
The 2nd new evidence, new witness that we found, was a man who spent time with Justin Sneed shortly after Justin Sneed was arrested in 1997. He was his cellmate in the county jail. And that individual will testify that Mr. Sneed told him all about the crime on many occasions and never once mentioned that it was a murder for hire, never once mentioned Richard Glossip's name. He just basically said he did for the money, which is of course what we know that he now did.
The 3rd witness will testify that after the second trial, while he was in the prison with Mr. Sneed, he overheard Mr. Sneed telling a very close friend of Mr. Sneed, in fact, laughing about the fact that he had set Richard Glossip up so that Sneed could get a life sentence and Glossip was going to die.
AMY GOODMAN: I'd like to play a short clip from the interrogation video of the key witness against Richard Glossip, Justin Sneed. The jury was not shown the video. The video was taken directly after his arrest for the murder of Barry Van Treese. Sneed talks about the amount of money he received and how it was divided. Listen carefully, as the audio quality isn't very good.
JUSTIN SNEED: And then we went and got the money out of the car, and went and took it back to my room, so I guess like his girlfriend wouldn't know nothing or nothing like that. And we split the money.
INTERROGATOR: How much did - money did you get?
JUSTIN SNEED: Uh, like about $1,900. I mean, he told me that the guy was sitting on like $7,000, but it only come out to being a little less than 5, I think.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Justin Sneed, 19 years old at the time, being interrogated for the murder of Barry Van Treese. Now, last year, Justin Sneed's daughter, O'Ryan Justine Sneed, wrote a letter to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board seeking clemency for Glossip and asserting his innocence. She also said her father had spoken to her of recanting his testimony. She wrote, "I strongly believe [Glossip] is an innocent man sitting on death row. ... For a couple of years now, my father has been talking to me about recanting his original testimony. But has been afraid to act upon it, in fear of being charged with the Death Penalty ... His fear of recanting, but guilt about not doing so, makes it obvious that information he is sitting on would exonerate Mr. Glossip." So, this whole issue of this teenager who was charged, at the time being told by the police detectives that he would not be put to death if he implicated Glossip, is that right?
DON KNIGHT: That's basically exactly what happened here, Amy. You know, they didn't come right out and use those terms, but everything that they said basically pointed to him making sure that he implicated Glossip. The name Richard Glossip was brought up by the police, driven home by the police. And after Mr. Sneed gave a couple of versions that included Mr. Glossip and the police liked the one, the final one that he gave, they told him that he had basically helped himself out a great deal. We know from the first witness that we have found, after this matter took place, the one when he was in county jail, that witness told us that Justin Sneed was terrified of the death penalty, and he would do anything to get out of the death penalty. And it appears that that's exactly what he's done.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And have you been able to talk to Glossip in the last - in the last day or 2? Give us a sense of his state of mind right now.
DON KNIGHT: I know that Sister Helen is on the line with us, and I think she's spoken to him more recently than I have, and I think I'll turn it over to her, if that's OK with you.
JUAN GONZALEZ: That's fine. Sister Helen Prejean?
|Richard Glossip, Sister Helen Prejean|
I will hardly be able to believe it if he dies. The system in our criminal justice system, and particularly the administration of the death penalty, is so corrupt, it is so messed up. And just what Don Knight was just saying about Justin Sneed being terrified of death, that's a tactic prosecutors use all the time to get people to confess or to buy their version of the story. And the reason that Richard Glossip is even facing death today at 3:00 is because the prosecutor, Bob Macy, got 54 death penalties. Every time he did, he cut a notch on his belt. And Richard had miserable defense. He almost had no defense. And there was no way investigation would be done. These witnesses that Don Knight and his stalwart team have cobbled together now, it was not done. The jury never heard it. So the jury only bought the version of what had happened from the prosecutor. And that's the soil in which this tree produces such terrible fruit of people actually going to their death on the word, almost completely, of another man who has been shown to be a serious meth addict and who stole all the time. You don't need to introduce Richard Glossip to be the mastermind. Justin Sneed was going in - sometimes, the drug dealer said, he would bring him coins. He stole from vending machines. Sometimes he brought him food stamps, a stereo from a car, because he was hooked on drugs. Why introduce Richard into the scenario at all, that he had to be the mastermind? And why? Because the 1 aggravating circumstance the prosecutor used to get the death penalty was murder for hire. That qualifies for the death penalty. And Richard Glossip is staring down death at 3:00 today because of that. That's how broken this thing is.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Sister Helen, you talk about the injustice of the death penalty for so many others. Well, this last week, Pope Francis, when he was speaking to Congress, called for the abolition of the death penalty. This is what he said.
POPE FRANCIS: The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development. This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels the global abolition of the death penalty. And I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently, my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of death penalty. Not only - not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.
JUAN GONZALEZ: That was Pope Francis speaking to Congress last week. Sister Helen Prejean, your sense of the impact of the pope's words and whether this is going to have some kind of effect in terms of achieving the abolition of the death penalty here in the United States?
SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Well, a lot of people heard those words - and words that speak truth to us and call us to the more noble parts of ourselves, that protection of life, not just of innocent life - and that was a big surprise, because it was sustained applause when the pope said, you know, "protect life at every stage." And I think everybody thought they knew what was coming next, and it would have to do with innocent life. But he held up the guilty. He held up people who have done terrible crimes, that they have dignity, and that - so the global abolition of the death penalty. And so, the words are out there, and the words reach some hearts. Some hearts seal off the words and refuse to let them come in.
But I knew that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy was sitting there. He's the 5th vote on the Supreme Court we need, which could abolish the death penalty. And the Richard Glossip case could be the case that just shows exactly how broken this thing is. When you let the states, like Oklahoma, be the administers of the death penalty, all the politics, all the culture comes in, so you get a Bob Macy, and you get people running for political office - off of the deaths of people. And so, I can only hope the pope's words, spoken in such truth to us, will have an effect on hearts.
AMY GOODMAN: Sister Helen Prejean, can you say what's going to happen today? You have walked many men to death row. What will happen when you get in your car right now, with Don Knight, and head over to the prison? What is the schedule of the day?
SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: We get to the prison around 11:00 or a little bit before 11:00, because Don and another one of the lawyers are going to go be visiting with Richard from 11:00 to 1:00. I, with the other witnesses, will be put into a van and brought back to wait in a room, because we are the ones who are going to be witnesses for Richard. And they're going to have a coffee pot going. They're going to be polite to us. And they're going to say, "Do you need anything? Here is everything you need," as the Van Treeses are going to be brought to a room to wait. This is the moment of justice they've been promised.
AMY GOODMAN: The murder victim's family.
SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: The murder victim's family, right. And just the last time when Richard got a stay and they brought us back to the van, I looked across the way, and there was the Van Treese family being put into a van to be taken out of the prison. Look what happens to the victims' families. They wait for this moment of justice. And then - and then they're led out: "Sorry, not today. You'll get your justice maybe in two weeks." And it's unlike anything I know to describe to you.
I know what the lawyers have filed with the Supreme Court. I know of Justice Breyer's strong dissent when they did the lethal injection thing on the Glossip case. I can only hope that they are persuaded by the arguments and don't just fall back behind procedure and say, "This should have been filed much sooner," which is what the Court of Criminal Appeals did in Oklahoma: "Procedure bars you from raising these issues. We've already looked at these issues," which meant they were impervious to look at the new information and the new facts, because procedure bars you from looking. I only hope that this court will have the heart and conscience to widen it, to see that to kill a human being, especially an innocent human being, is cruelty, it is torture, and it is against our noblest beliefs.
It's like putting your boat on a wave, and you ride it, to let the time fill up as we're waiting, as I'm waiting. They have a bathroom in that place, where you can go and have a little privacy. And I plan to retreat to that little place of privacy as often as I can.
AMY GOODMAN: Don Knight, let me end with you. Of course, I'm sure many people are asking, how are you presenting innocence at the last possible minute?
DON KNIGHT: Well, Justin Sneed is the key to this whole case. He has always been the key to this whole case. The truth of the matter is, he was a 19-year-old, meth-addicted person with a criminal history. He is not the kind of person that you would have ever counted on to do anything. If you would have asked him to take some money to the bank for you, you would know categorically that he would not get that money to the bank, that he would use it for himself. He was not a reliable person when he was 19. He is still not reliable, in the latest interview that he gave just within the last 2 weeks. It's disgusting, really, to think that we are going to - today, maybe - kill a man based upon the word of someone that no one would count on under any circumstances. And that's what we're facing today, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Don Knight, one of Richard Glossip's pro bono attorneys, he'll be with Richard Glossip today, has also appealed the case to the Supreme Court in this last minute. Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, will be accompanying Richard Glossip on whatever it is that happens today. And, of course, we'll keep you updated, even after this broadcast, at democracynow.org.
Source: democracynow.org, September 30, 2015
Richard Glossip and the End of the Death Penalty
If the Supreme Court abolishes the death penalty soon, which Justice Antonin Scalia said, last week, that he "wouldn't be surprised" to see, the case of Richard Glossip is likely to be a significant point of reference in accounts of how it happened.
The state of Oklahoma is scheduled to execute Glossip by lethal injection this afternoon. He was sentenced to death for a murder that, the record in the case makes clear, he did not commit. He had never been arrested before. He had no history of violence. His conviction was based on the testimony of the murderer, a man named Justin Sneed, who confessed to using a baseball bat to bludgeon the victim to death. Sneed claimed that Glossip had pressed him to commit the murder and, in exchange for his testimony against Glossip, which was coaxed by a police interrogator, he got a sentence of life in prison rather than death.
"I'm trying to stop them from killing me by any method," Glossip told The Intercept this summer, "because of the fact that I'm innocent."
Glossip was twice convicted and sentenced to execution. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the first conviction, holding that his lawyer's "conduct was so ineffective that we have no confidence that a reliable adversarial proceeding took place." After that ruling, the prosecution stipulated that no physical evidence linked Glossip to the crime scene. He was convicted again based largely on Sneed's testimony, although his account of Glossip's alleged involvement diverged from what he said at the 1st trial, which diverged from his original confession to police. According to Glossip's lawyers, Sneed has given 8 "very different" accounts.
Last January, the Supreme Court stayed Glossip's execution so that it could hear a challenge that he and other death-row inmates had made to the use of the drug midazolam as the anesthetic in a 3-drug lethal-injection procedure, before the other drugs were administered to paralyze the inmate and then to stop his heart. The challenge came after Oklahoma's gruesome execution of an inmate in 2014, when the state used midazolam and it failed to fully anesthetize him, causing him searing pain.
3 months ago, at the end of the recent Court term, the Justices upheld the use of the drug by 5-4. They said that Glossip's lawyers had not shown that the state had a better option than midazolam or that the use of midazolam with the other drugs was "sure or very likely to result in needless suffering."
The 1st reason that the Glossip case is likely to be a point of reference is the widely commented-on dissent by Justice Stephen Breyer, who, "rather than try to patch up the death penalty's legal wounds one at a time," devoted 41 pages to arguing "that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment" - that is, the constitutional clause prohibiting the infliction of "cruel and unusual punishments." Breyer's dissent laid out his reasons: "(1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application, and (3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty's penological purpose. Perhaps as a result, (4) most places within the United States have abandoned its use."
The Glossip case doesn't illustrate all of these reasons, but it provides a case study in the unreliability of the application of the death sentence. Glossip's current lawyers have raised serious doubts about his guilt, which make his conviction dubious and his death sentence unjust. His counsel in his 1st trial was reprehensibly bad. His counsel in his 2nd trial exceeded the very low standard for ineffective counsel, but did a poor cross-examination of Sneed, the main witness against Glossip. From the decision to charge Glossip with a capital crime to some unsavory tactical moves in the second trial, the prosecution was unquestionably overzealous and may have crossed the line into misconduct.
Cases like Glossip's are all too common. In 2005, the Center on Wrongful Convictions, at Northwestern, reported that 51 of the 111 people exonerated of capital crimes since the death penalty was reinstated, in the 1970s, "were sentenced to death based in whole or part on the testimony of witnesses with incentives to lie," including some who were "promised leniency in their own cases," as Sneed was in this one.
The 2nd reason that this case is likely to be a point of reference in any narrative of death-penalty abolition is the way that it has played out in an Oklahoma state court this month. After his loss at the Supreme Court, Glossip was scheduled to be executed on September 16th, but his lawyers asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals for a stay of execution so that they could put together a case based on newly obtained accounts from 2 witnesses, which, they said, destroyed the credibility of the testimony implicating Glossip. The court granted a stay "in order for this court to give fair consideration to the materials included," but, on Monday, decided not to let a state trial court consider the new evidence. It ended the stay, so the state can execute Glossip today, unless the Supreme Court intervenes.
The opinion for the majority in the state appeals-court decision is technical, and this sentence is key: "The claims do not fall within the guidelines of the post-conviction procedure act allowing this Court to consider the merits or grant relief." The opinion said, basically, that the new evidence wasn't new and that Glossip's lawyers were raising issues already raised and rejected on a previous appeal. A dissent pointed out that the failure to review his claims could be a miscarriage of justice: Glossip is about to be executed and "the State has no interest in executing an actually innocent man."
The ruling has nothing to do with the merits of the case. It has everything to do with the state's attempt to bring death-penalty cases to an end because of "the legal principle of finality of judgment," as the majority opinion put it - even if that means denying a hearing that might exonerate an innocent man. The Supreme Court has favored this kind of impatience for decades. It has repeatedly put an end to federal cases, even when a federal appeals court had good reasons for not wanting to end a case - not wanting to permit a state to execute a death-row inmate who might be innocent or who might have been wrongfully sentenced to death.
The Breyer dissent this summer laid out why there are often strong reasons to address the merits of these cases:
Researchers have calculated that courts (or State Governors) are 130 times more likely to exonerate a defendant where a death sentence is at issue. They are 9 times more likely to exonerate where a capital murder, rather than a noncapital murder, is at issue.
Why is that so? To some degree, it must be because the law that governs capital cases is more complex. To some degree, it must reflect the fact that courts scrutinize capital cases more closely. But, to some degree, it likely also reflects a greater likelihood of an initial wrongful conviction. How could that be so? In the view of researchers who have conducted these studies, it could be so because the crimes at issue in capital cases are typically horrendous murders, and thus accompanied by intense community pressure on police, prosecutors, and jurors to secure a conviction. This pressure creates a greater likelihood of convicting the wrong person.
Breyer's dissent riled Scalia. He responded with a concurrence that said that Breyer's "argument is full of internal contradictions and (it must be said) gobbledy-gook." In a more sober mood, during a speech last week at Rhodes College, in Tennessee, Scalia said that there are 4 votes on the Supreme Court to rule the death penalty unconstitutional - those of the moderate liberals. In the term that opens next week, 4 of the 34 cases the Justices have said, so far, that they will review deal with the death penalty. As Rory Little of the University of California's Hastings College of Law wrote on Scotusblog, this could be "the biggest Eighth Amendment term in 40 years."
In the wake of Pope Francis's visit, Robert J. Smith, who is a visiting scholar at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, suggested that there might be a 5th vote to abolish capital punishment. In Slate, he compared the Pope's call for "global abolition of the death penalty," based on the values of dignity and hope, with themes of recent Supreme Court rulings that have limited the application of the death penalty and other excessive punishment. He quoted opinions of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was in the audience when the Pope addressed Congress.
Smith didn't predict that Kennedy will vote to rule that the death penalty is unconstitutional, but he quoted a recent opinion of the Justice, in which he wrote, "The Eighth Amendment's protection of dignity reflects the Nation we have been, the Nation we are, and the Nation we aspire to be." That's the kind of Kennedy homily that makes Scalia apoplectic, but it's in the spirit of the Breyer dissent. It's also the kind of statement that can inspire many Americans, including state-court judges far from Washington, D.C.
A 2nd dissent from Monday's state-court ruling in Oklahoma, allowing the state to execute Glossip, quoted from the same Kennedy opinion: "The death penalty is the gravest sentence our society may impose." The state court, the dissent said, should have granted Glossip's request for a new evidentiary hearing to investigate his claim of innocence. Why? Because - in Kennedy's words again - those who face "that most severe sanction must have a fair opportunity to show that the Constitution prohibits their execution."
Source: The New Yorker, September 30, 2015
Pope urges Oklahoma governor to stop execution of man who claims innocence
A letter from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Pope Francis' diplomatic representative to the U.S., requested that Gov. Mary Fallin commute the death sentence of inmate Richard Glossip.
The note, dated Sept. 19 was released by the state Wednesday, just hours before Glossip - who has long claimed he is innocent in the 1997 motel killing - is set to die.
Capital punishment should only be used in "cases of absolute necessity" and such instances are "very rare" today, Vigano wrote, invoking the words of Pope John Paul II.
Commuting Glossip's sentence "would give clearer witness to the value and dignity of every person's life," the Catholic leader wrote.
"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," he said in the note.
Pope Francis urged Oklahoma's governor to halt the execution in a newly released letter dated Sept. 19.
A spokesman for Fallin said the governor does not have the authority to grant a commutation.
Vigano sent a similar letter Tuesday to officials in Georgia, but that didn't stop the execution of Kelly Renee Gissendaner.
Glossip is scheduled to be executed Wednesday afternoon at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, despite his claim of innocence. His lawyers have requested a stay of execution with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Glossip was convicted of ordering the beating death of an Oklahoma City motel owner. But Glossip has long claimed that he was framed by the actual killer, Justin Sneed, who is serving a life sentence. Sneed was the state's key witness against Glossip in 2 separate trials.
Just hours before Glossip was originally to be put to death on Sept. 16, the state's highest criminal court granted a 2-week reprieve to investigative new evidence - including another inmate's claim that he overheard Sneed admit to framing Glossip.
The note was penned by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Pope Francis' diplomatic representative to the U.S.
But in a 3-2 decision earlier this week, the same court denied Glossip's request for an evidentiary hearing and emergency stay of execution, paving the way for his execution to proceed.
Unless a court halts the execution, it will be the 1st in Oklahoma since the U.S. Supreme Court in June upheld the state's three-drug lethal injection formula that includes the sedative midazolam. Glossip and other death row inmates had argued that the sedative did not adequately render an inmate unconscious before the lethal drugs were administered.
Oklahoma first used the drug last year in the execution of Clayton Lockett, who writhed on the gurney, moaned and clenched his teeth for several minutes before prison officials tried to halt the process. He died 43 minutes after it was first injected.
Source: New York Daily News, September 30, 2015
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