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The Prison Complex

Monday, Sep 14, 2015, 11:00 am

Oklahoma Execution Looms but Lawyers say Richard Glossip “Sentenced to Death Because He’s Poor

By George Lavender

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Time is running out for Oklahoma death-row prisoner Richard Glossip. 

With just days to go before his scheduled execution, Glossip's lawyers used a press conference on Monday to present what they said was previously unexamined evidence of his innocence.  His new attorney Donald Knight says that Glossip had been unable to pay for an adequate legal defense. "Not very many people can afford a death penalty defense" he told the Guardian "that should scare everyone.” Knight is seeking a 60 day stay of execution from Governor Mary Fallin. 

Glossip has been convicted twice for arranging the killing of Barry Van Treese in 1997, but no DNA or fingerprints were ever presented linking him to the murder, and the case relied instead on the testimony of the person who actually carried out the killing. As the Guardian reports Glossip's lawyers have sought to challenge that version of events.

Glossip was convicted based on the testimony of Justin Sneed, a 19-year-old maintenance worker who, at various points during his police interrogation a week after the murder, said he didn’t know Van Treese, then that he didn’t kill van Treese, then that he had killed him accidentally, and then that he had killed him intentionally, under Glossip’s instruction. Eventually, Sneed agreed to a plea deal in which he would testify against Glossip to save himself from the death penalty.

Transcripts of the police interrogation show Sneed first denied any knowledge of the murder. “I don’t really know what to say about it,” he told investigators, stumbling over a story about his brother before admitting that he robbed Van Treese but “I only meant to knock him out”.

“The thing about it is, Justin, we think – we know that this involves more than just you, okay?” Detective Bob Bemo said to Sneed, later introducing Glossip as a snitch. “You know Rich is under arrest don’t you? … [H]e’s putting it on you the worst.”

Sneed’s story shifted.

“Actually, Rich asked me to kill Barry, that’s what he’d done,” Sneed said, and investigators took the conversation off-camera, where Sneed signed a plea deal. Continue reading...

Last year, Sneed's own daughter wrote in a letter to the state's Parole and Pardon Board that for "a couple of years now, my father has been talking to me about recanting his original testimony. But has been afraid to act upon it, in fear of being charged with the Death Penalty, and not be here for his children." 

Glossip has come close to death before. In January he was just a day away from the death chamber before being granted a stay. 

Oklahoma's death penalty has been under scrutiny ever since the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in April 2014. Glossip's own execution was delayed because he was part of a legal challenge to the use of the death penalty drug, midazolam, one of the drugs used in Lockett's execution. In June the Supreme Court ruled that use of the drug was constitutional.

George Lavender is an award-winning radio and print journalist based in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @GeorgeLavender.

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