Court halts execution of Oklahoma man who claims innocence

September 16, 2015 GMT

McALESTER, Okla. (AP) — An appeals court halted the execution of an Oklahoma man with just hours to spare Wednesday after his attorneys said they had uncovered new evidence, including a fellow inmate’s claim that he overheard another man convicted in the case admit he acted alone.

Richard Eugene Glossip was twice convicted of ordering the killing of Barry Van Treese, who owned the Oklahoma City motel where Glossip worked. Motel handyman Justin Sneed admitted robbing and beating Van Treese with a baseball bat, but said he did so only after Glossip promised to pay him $10,000.


Prosecutors alleged Glossip was afraid Van Treese was about to fire him for embezzling money and poorly managing the motel.

Glossip, 52, was scheduled to be executed at 3 p.m. Wednesday, but the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals agreed just before noon to reschedule the lethal injection for Sept. 30. Glossip’s lawyers said they obtained a signed affidavit from another inmate, Michael Scott, who claims he heard Sneed say “he set Richard Glossip up, and that Richard Glossip didn’t do anything.”

His attorneys also argued that Glossip’s trial attorneys didn’t present enough evidence to discredit Sneed, who was sentenced to life in prison and testified against Glossip. They presented an affidavit from an admitted methamphetamine dealer who said he frequently saw Sneed use the drug and trade stolen items for it.

The court said it granted the last-minute request “in order for this court to give fair consideration” to Glossip’s new claims.

Glossip attorney Don Knight said he was inside the prison speaking to Glossip when a prison official informed them the execution had been stayed.

“It took his breath away for a second,” Knight said. “We were kind of doing a fist bump through the glass. He was really joyous, truly joyous. It was a wonderful moment.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said the Van Treese family has waited “18 agonizing years for justice to be realized,” but said he was confident the court wouldn’t find any evidence to overturn the two juries that convicted Glossip and sentenced him to death.

Van Treese’s brother, Ken Van Treese, also said the family had faith in the courts.

“We appreciate the efforts of all those who are conversant with the case and know the facts involved,” he said in a statement.


Barry Van Treese was found beaten to death in a room at the Best Budget Inn on Jan. 7, 1997. Van Treese was staying at the Oklahoma City motel while delivering paychecks and picking up large amounts of money for deposit.

Glossip was questioned by police, and a day later began selling his belongings and telling people he was leaving town, according to investigators. Police again detained him and found him with $1,200; court records show his net pay that week was about $430. Sneed was found with $1,700 after Van Treese’s death.

Glossip’s case garnered international attention after Hollywood actress Susan Sarandon, who played a nun in the movie “Dead Man Walking,” took up his cause. The woman Sarandon portrayed in the movie, anti-death penalty advocate Sister Helen Prejean, has served as Glossip’s spiritual adviser and frequently visited him in prison.

On Tuesday, Glossip maintained his innocence during a brief telephone interview with The Associated Press. He said he hoped his life would be spared, and that he remained optimistic.

“They’ll never take that from me,” Glossip told the AP. “I won’t let it bring me down. If you’ve got to go out ... you don’t want to be bitter and angry about it.”

Glossip’s daughter, Ericka Glossip-Hodge, said she and several relatives were on their way to the prison when told of Wednesday’s court decision.

“We’re really excited,” Glossip-Hodge said. “We actually got off the road and pulled over.”

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, who has rejected calls to delay Glossip’s execution, said her office would respect “whatever decision the court makes.” She echoed Pruitt’s sentiments, saying her thoughts and prayers were will the Van Treese family.

Glossip’s new execution date is one week before the scheduled execution of Benjamin Cole. After the botched execution of inmate Clayton Lockett in April 2014, a state review committee recommended that at least a week pass between executions.

Had it not been halted, Glossip’s execution would have been the first in Oklahoma since a sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court upheld the state’s three-drug lethal injection formula in June.


Associated Press writers Kelly P. Kissel and Tim Talley in Oklahoma City and Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed to this report.