OKLAHOMA CITY (KOKH) — Oklahoma's death chamber has been shut down for more than two years. but the case that exposed flaws in the process and led to the ongoing pause in executions is once again making headlines.
It was September 30, 2015 when Don Knight waited outside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. As he waited with the family of Richard Glossip, he could not imagine what was really happening inside the walls of the state’s death chamber.
“It was a real powerful moment, a real powerful time for all of us to think that Rich was being killed.” Knight told FOX 25. “I think that was hard, it is one thing to say that somebody has died, but to think that actually someone is being killed that it is happening in real time.”
Glossip did not die that day. It was the third time his execution had been delayed. That delay was caused by the state not having the correct drugs to carry out an execution.
A grand jury investigation would reveal the governor’s office attempted to force the prison to proceed with an unapproved drug. It was the attorney general’s office which put the execution on hold in favor of upholding state law. Executions have been on hold since then.
The unexpected delay gave Knight and Glossip what they really needed most, time; time to do the investigation that was never done in 1997.
“For the most part what it showed us was how under represented or misrepresented Rich was,” Knight said of his investigation, “How little was done. I think that was the thing that has really been driven home for us.”
Knight said the documentary crew working for Investigation Discovery has conducted its own investigation. He allowed them access to his work, but called the work by the “Killing Richard Glossip crew an independent investigation by investigative journalists.
“This is not a documentary about me or our search for new evidence it is about the case and their search for new evidence,” Knight said. “They did things that we were not able to do.”
One of the things the documentary was able to do was interview Justin Sneed. Sneed beat Barry Van Treese to death in 1997. Prosecutors offered to spare his life if he testified against Glossip. Sneed said Glossip pressured him and paid him to commit the murder. Knight has found witnesses who said Sneed has admitted to lying about Glossip in order to avoid the death penalty and secure a spot in a less secure prison.
Glossip's case focused the world's attention on Oklahoma and the death penalty. In 2015 there were supporters of capital punishment asked the state to re-think Glossip's pending execution. The Governor’s office denied any stays initially based on the new evidence saying Glossip had appropriate access to justice and was guilty of the murder-for-hire plot.
Glossip has always maintained he did not order or pay for the murder and at one point turned down a plea deal that would have allowed him to be released some day if he admitted to taking part in the crime.
While a new execution date has not been set, there is no timeline on when the death chamber will be reactivated. It could be days or years.
“He's [Glossip] made it very clear,” Knight said, “Don please I don't want to have to go through that process again.”
The process, Knight explained is the final weeks leading up to the execution.
“He goes upstairs to these four special cells and they put him in the one that is furthest down the hall from the execution chamber and every few days they move him to one that is closer to the execution chamber until he is right next to the execution chamber. And the door can open and he can see inside the execution chamber. They leave the light on for 24 hours, seven days a week.”
Still though, through all the executions dates that have come and gone, Knight said Glossip remains positive.
“Hope is a tough commodity in death row, but somehow or another Rich finds a way to keep it going.”
After the problems with Glossip's attempted execution and the other publicized failures of Oklahoma’s ability to carry out capital punishment a bi-partisan commission was formed to investigate the state's death penalty.
That group, led by former Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry, is planning to release a report within the coming month on their findings.
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