An Innocent Man May Die This Week

Richard-GlossipBy the time this goes to press I may be watching an innocent man die for a crime he did not commit.

Richard Glossip is scheduled to die at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester for the murder of Robert Van Treese in 1997. And I will be in the press pool.

Glossip was convicted in two trials of hiring motel handyman Justin Sneed to kill Van Treese, owner of a motel in Oklahoma City Glossip managed.

Sneed is serving a life sentence for beating Van Treese to death with a baseball bat. Under questioning Sneed confessed that Glossip hired him to kill Van Treese for the money from the motel receipts he kept in his car.

Unless Oklahoma governor Mary Falllin grants a requested 60-day stay of execution, Glossip will die by lethal injection at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 16.

This story landed in my inbox a week ago when I was asked to cover a meeting of a group at the University of Central Oklahoma called, Conservatives and Progressives United Against the Death Penalty.

I still haven’t had time to do research in depth. I’ll also add the disclaimer that I’ve heard almost entirely from people who passionately believe Glossip is innocent or have doubts of his guilt.

Those people include the usual assortment of bleeding hearts such as Sister Helen Prejean and actress Susan Sarandon who played Sister Helen in the movie “Dead Man Walking.”

But they also include rock-ribbed conservatives such as Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn and legendary football coach Barry Switzer.

That said, this case stinks.

Glossip was convicted solely on the testimony of a meth head and thief, given in return for life in a medium security prison.

Understand, Glossip was no angel. His lawyer Donald Knight admitted Glossip was dealing meth, or at least closed his eyes to what was going on in the shady motel he managed. Glossip also failed to notify the police and locked the room the body was in for 10 hours.

So, Glossip is guilty as an accessory after the fact at least. But the motive and evidence do not appear to warrant a conviction of murder for hire.

The prosecution argued that Glossip handed over $4,000 in motel receipts to Van Treese, then convinced Sneed to kill Van Treese for the money and split it 50/50. And/or that Glossip was afraid Van Treese was going to fire him over $6,000 in missing funds, or because Glossip wasn’t maintaining the run-down place, or that once Van Treese was dead Glossip would somehow get to manage both of Van Treese’s motels.

Under questioning Sneed changed his story eight times, only implicating Glossip after detectives suggested Glossip hired him. This is on video – which neither jury was allowed to see.

However Dr. Richard Leo, an expert on false confessions, has seen the video and given a detailed opinion on how he thinks the detectives used techniques often seen in cases of false confessions.

Glossip’s current legal team who are working pro bono, claim to have a witness who served time with Sneed who says Sneed has boasted about setting up Glossip.

And apparently not even Sneed’s mother and daughter believe Glossip is guilty.

Glossip’s conviction was a perfect storm of inadequate representation and a prosecution by the office of Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy, whose administration was characterized by “errors, misconduct, and general disregard for life and innocence” in the judgement of Mark Fuhrman author of, “Death and Justice: an expose of Oklahoma’s death row machine.”

It is possible Glossip’s cause has been hurt by the fact his help comes from anti-death penalty advocates, who believe he’s innocent but the causes may be confused in people’s minds.

However I am not categorically against the death penalty, though I would have it reserved for the most heinous crimes where there is no doubt of guilt.

Murder for hire is a heinous crime, but this case is very, very thin.

I have been asked in the context of death penalty cases what I would do if it were my child who was the victim?

And I answer, I would kill them myself and sleep like a baby afterwards.

Then I ask in return, “If it were you who had to do the killing, how much certainty would you want that the accused was guilty?”

Note: This is my weekly op-ed. I usually wait to post online until the print version is out, except in cases where the news is time sensitive. I think this qualifies as time sensitive.
I should also note that Glossip’s family have told me, though I have yet to confirm, that he was offered commutation of his death sentence to life imprisonment in return for allocuting to the crime – and he refused.