"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Oklahoma: When in doubt, decline use of death penalty

Richard Glossip
Richard Glossip
As the controversy involving convicted killer Richard Eugene Glossip plays out in Oklahoma, it is receiving a fair amount of attention in Glossip's native state, Illinois.

Ironically, Glossip wouldn't face the same fate if he had been convicted of murder in Illinois, and as doubt lingers about Glossip's guilt as his execution date nears, it indicates why Illinois is on the right side of the capital punishment question.

Glossip, 51, was born and raised in Galesburg, and in an interview published last weekend, he told his hometown newspaper, The Register-Mail, Oklahoma is going to "kill an innocent man'' if they carry his execution out.

He was convicted in 1998 of killing Barry Alan Van Treese, owner of a Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City. Prosecutors said Glossip feared being fired and devised a plot to kill Van Treese. The motel's maintenance man, Justin Sneed, pleaded guilty to killing Van Treese. He admitted to bludgeoning him to death in a hotel room and testified against Glossip in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.

Despite vigorous objections from Van Treese's family, Glossip has maintained his innocence and has drawn some prominent people to his side.

Sister Helen Prejean, Glossip's spiritual advisor and author of "Dead Man Walking," a book which examines moral issues related to the death penalty, has repeatedly defended the death row inmate. Susan Sarandon, who played Prejean in the movie adaption of "Dead Man Walking," also has rallied to his defense.
Susan Sarandon
Susan Sarandon

When Van Treese was murdered in 1997, forensic science was not nearly advanced as it is today, and Glossip was convicted largely on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of Sneed.

Doubt of Glossip's guilt has remained ever since, and O'Ryan Justine Sneed, Sneed's daughter, has written a letter asking for clemency for Glossip. She said her father has expressed his desire to recant his testimony, and the letter included this paragraph:

"I am sure that Mr. Glossip did not do what my father originally said, that he did not hire my father to kill Mr. Van Treese, and he doesn't deserve to die over my father's actions. One innocent life has already been taken by my father's actions. A second one doesn't deserve to be taken as well."

The letter was written long after Glossip was originally convicted, had that conviction overturned, and was convicted anew in 2004. Thus, it is not considered evidence. But it does cast only further doubt on Glossip's guilt, and just a glimmer of doubt is all it should take to call off the execution.

That's what former Illinois governor and current Kankakee resident George Ryan concluded when he suspended executions in 2000. Ryan, once an ardent death penalty supporter, acted after growing doubts about the justice system and after courts threw out the death sentences of 13 condemned men.

Shortly before leaving office in 2003, Ryan cleared death row, commuting the sentences of 167 inmates to life in prison. In 2011, Gov. Pat Quinn took the final step by abolishing the death penalty completely.

Many critics of those moves remain, and it's not hard to understand their objections. If it is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that someone has taken a life or lives, then perhaps they should pay with their own.

But, if there is any doubt, and even if it further develops only after someone is found guilty in a court of law, than how can you carry out an execution? Ryan saw sense in that argument.

Will Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin come to the same realization before Sept. 16, Glossip's scheduled date to die by lethal injection? It doesn't appear so, as just last week, she issued a statement saying Glossip's execution will move forward because she is convinced of his guilt and his conviction was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Supreme Court decision or not, it's difficult to discount the other factors that might indicate Glossip is not guilty. The same can be said for many other death penalty cases, and because of it, Oklahoma and the other 30 states that still allow the death penalty should consider following the lead of Illinois.

Source: Editorial, Kankakee Daily Journal, August 18, 2015

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