Attorneys working on 2 fronts to spare death row inmate
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Attorneys for an Oklahoma death row inmate who won a two-week reprieve from his scheduled execution are working on two legal fronts in an effort to save their client’s life.
While one team of lawyers for Richard Glossip is trying to convince a state appeals court that their client is innocent, another group of public defenders is in federal court again challenging the use of a controversial sedative as part of a three-drug formula that will be used to kill him.
Glossip, 52, was just hours away from being executed Wednesday when the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ordered his execution halted for two weeks so they could have time to review a lengthy legal filing his lawyers had filed a day earlier. Glossip’s attorneys want the court to grant an evidentiary hearing so they can call witnesses and go over new facts that they claim “seriously call into question the reliability of Mr. Glossip’s conviction and death sentence.”
So far the court has only delayed Glossip’s execution until Sept. 30 so they can have time to review the last-minute filing and have not agreed to grant a hearing.
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.
Among the new evidence Glossip’s attorneys presented is 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.” The Oklahoman reported Saturday that Scott, according to a prisons system document, once labeled himself a habitual liar.
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.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, who took office after the second trial ended with a second death sentence, said he’s reviewed the new evidence, along with transcripts from the original trial, boxes of evidence and videotaped police interviews, and remains convinced of Glossip’s guilt.
Prater said Glossip lied to police and co-workers about Van Treese’s whereabouts, helped Sneed cover up the crime and had half of the money the pair stole from Van Treese’s car when he was arrested.
“I don’t just have beyond-a-reasonable-doubt assurances in my mind that Mr. Glossip is guilty, but to a moral certainty I’m convinced he’s guilty,” Prater said.
If necessary, Prater said he would retry Glossip for first-degree murder and seek the death penalty again.
Prater also discounted a box of evidence from the original trial that the Oklahoma City Police Department has acknowledged was inadvertently destroyed in 1999 after Glossip’s initial trial. Those items, including duct tape, glasses, a wallet, knives, keys, a shower curtain, deposit book and receipt book, had no bearing on the case, Prater said.
“Those items were all fully processed and there was no physical evidence that tied Glossip to those items,” Prater said. “There was even a stipulation in the second trial as to that fact, so the jury knew about all that.”
Meanwhile, a separate team of attorneys are fighting in federal court for a full trial on the merits of using the sedative midazolam as the first in Oklahoma’s three-drug lethal injection protocol. Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June in a narrow 5-4 decision that the protocol is constitutional, attorneys for Glossip and other Oklahoma death row inmates are scheduled to go to trial again in April to prove that midazolam is not a proper drug for lethal injection and that other, more suitable drugs, are available.
Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy