Texas Should Not Have Executed Robert Pruett

Update: Robert Pruett was executed by lethal injection on Thursday.
Robert Pruett is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas Thursday. He has never had a chance to live outside a prison as an adult. Taking his life is a senseless wrong that shows how badly the justice system fails juveniles.
Mr. Pruett was 15 years old when he last saw the outside world, after being arrested as an accomplice to a murder committed by his own father. Now 38, having been convicted of a murder while incarcerated, he will be put to death. At a time when the Supreme Court has begun to recognize excessive punishments for juveniles as unjust, Mr. Pruett’s case shows how young lives can be destroyed by a justice system that refuses to give second chances.
Mr. Pruett’s father, Sam Pruett, spent much of Mr. Pruett’s early childhood in prison. Mr. Pruett and his three siblings were raised in various trailer parks by his mother, who he has said used drugs heavily and often struggled to feed the children. Wh…

Testimony discrepancies uncovered during death penalty trial raise new questions about Richard Glossip's execution

Richard Glossip, Sister Helen Prejean
Richard Glossip, Sister Helen Prejean
"Justin Sneed isn't the only person that gave conflicting statements about Richard Glossip's case. This new report reveals major discrepancies in the testimony of a forensic pathologist at Richard's second trial. The cause of death that the pathologist presented to the jury is different than the findings on the official autopsy report. Jurors in the second trial pointed to the testimony of this pathologist as key to their decision to sentence Richard to death." -- Sister Helen Prejean

OKLAHOMA CITY - The next man on Oklahoma’s death row has less than a week to live. His lawyers say they need more time as they do the investigation supporters of Richard Glossip say was never done in his original trials. As Fox 25 has continued to look into these claims we uncovered evidence of discrepancies during a key witness’ testimony. That testimony is now being called into question by a forensic scientist who says the jury was misinformed during their key life or death decision.

The governor's office has repeatedly pointed to the fact Richard Glossip received two trials and they are upholding the will of 24 jurors who sentenced him to death. When Fox 25 revealed one of the jurors for the first trial said their verdict would change based on newly revealed details of the crime, the governor's office said the focus should be on the second trial which was narrowly upheld in the appeals court.

Fox 25 reached out to jurors from that trial in our continuing effort to investigate claims by Glossip’s that key facts were left out of his defense. We are not disclosing the identities of the jurors who spoke with us. The majority of the claims by Glossip’s defense team center around the unreliability of the testimony of Justin Sneed, the man who beat Barry Van Treese to death with a baseball bat. 

One juror told Fox 25 they did not believe much of Sneed’s testimony because they saw him as a teenager who was saying whatever he had to in order to save his own life. Another juror said they fully believed Sneed’s version of events. However when it came to determining the Glossip’s guilt, both jurors said the it was the testimony of the pathologist from the State Medical Examiner’s office.

During the trial the pathologist testified Van Treese slowly bled to death. The testimony indicates jurors were left with the impression Van Treese could have been alive as much as 8 hours after Sneed’s attack. Jurors told Fox 25 they convicted Glossip because he could have saved Van Treese’s life if he had called police immediately after Sneed told him he committed the murder. The juror said that action made Glossip not only guilty, but callous enough to deserve death. Glossip has never denied not telling police key facts early on in the investigation, but has always held that he did not ask or solicit Sneed to murder Van Treese. 

In Sneed’s confession to police he said he hit Van Treese until he stopped bleeding and even returned to the room and hit him again to make sure he was dead.

When Fox 25 examined trial testimony and the official record, we found a significant discrepancy between the trial testimony and the medical examiner’s autopsy report.

“There should never be a discrepancy between an autopsy report and what a medical examiner testifies to in court,” said attorney Jaye Mendros. Mendros says she has had trial where that has happened and even helped lead the fight to reform the state medical examiner’s office. 

“The short answer is it was a train wreck,” Mendros said of the agency during the late 1990s and early 2000s, “I mean the medical examiner’s office had a lot of problems during this time period.” Mendros worked with families as they lobbied for reforms. Governor Mary Fallin signed those reforms into law in 2011. One bill in particular allowed families a legal recourse for families when there is evidence of errors made by the Medical Examiner’s office. In an email exchange the governor’s office says that bill was about better management of the ME’s office and she never doubted the accuracy of any findings by the state pathologists.

“If there is any question at all that hinges on the reliability of the medical examiner's office from this time period I would say there should be a significant doubt as to the accuracy and reliability,” Mendros told Fox 25.

According to the pathologist autopsy report, Van Treese died from blunt force and head injuries. The report makes no mention of blood loss. However during the second trial the pathologist downplayed the head injuries and told jurors Van Treese’s death was from blood loss and took hours. 

Fox 25 presented these questions to Glossip's new defense team which was not looking at the testimony of the pathologist. The attorneys said they have been focused on finding new evidence, but the discrepancies we uncovered were so serious they sent all the reports to an independent forensic pathologist.

Dr. Carl Wigren’s review found the Oklahoma pathology report showed the opposite of what the testimony said and said the science shows Van Treese died within a matter of minutes. The testimony of Justin Sneed backs this finding up and shows Sneed was likely present during the death.

In a statement Dr. Wigren said:

“It is my understanding that the attorneys for defendant Mr. Glossip did not engage the services of a forensic pathologist to review the case and provide testimony at either of his two trials. Considering the gravity of the outcome for Mr. Glossip, this is an unconscionable act of omission on the part of both defense teams. Even with my eleventh hour review of the case, there are blatant inconsistencies in the testimony of the pathologist who performed the examination. Despite the fact that important information can be gleaned from the autopsy photographs, I was told that they are not available and were never reviewed by a consulting forensic pathologist.

The entirety of materials including police narratives, autopsy report, pathologist’s testimony statements, and autopsy photographs must be reviewed by a non-conflicted, outside forensic pathologist. It is essential that the conclusions that were accepted at trial were based on accepted scientific and medical principles.”

In fact, the testimony shows Glossip’s defense attorneys never objected to the pathologist’s testimony, even though the testimony in the second trial was different than the pathologist’s testimony in the first trial. In addition, this discrepancy was never brought up in any appeal. Mendros says during the time period of Glossip’s trial it was difficult for public defenders to get funding for independent experts and it was years after Glossip’s appeal was filed when the questionable facts about the medical examiner’s office began to emerge.

“There were a lot of problems going on during this period of time that didn't come to light until later when these investigations started taking place in 2009,” Mendros said. 

Source: okcfox.com, Phil Cross, September 10, 2015

Report an error, an omission: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com

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