An article that I recently authored was posted by the Oklahoma media outlet, NonDoc. In the piece, I described the many examples that have marred Oklahoma’s death penalty system. I said,
The signs of a turning tide are also starting to surface in Oklahoma. Recently, polling showed that a plurality of Oklahoma Republican voters were open to replacing the death penalty with an alternative, and, in light of recent events, that is an understandable sentiment. The national spotlight has focused on Oklahoma following embarrassing botched executions, a subsequent ongoing grand jury investigation, and repeated attempts to execute a man despite a lack of physical evidence — Richard Glossip.
Richard Glossip’s case is highly problematic and should specifically give everyone pause. I wrote,
Glossip gained national notoriety because he was the plaintiff in a highly anticipated US Supreme Court decision regarding execution methods, but he is also known for nearly being executed three times despite a dearth of physical evidence. In 1997, Barry Van Treese, the owner of the motel where Glossip worked, was brutally murdered. Within days, one of Glossip’s employees, Justin Sneed, was apprehended by law enforcement officials, and he promptly confessed to killing Van Treese. Sneed had a documented history of criminal activity and drug use, and upon his admission of guilt, the case should have been closed. However, Sneed’s interrogators pressured him to identify Glossip as the crime’s mastermind. Glossip had no prior record of felony violence, and there was zero physical evidence linking him to the crime. Nevertheless, under intense pressure from the police, Sneed claimed that Glossip asked him to murder Van Treese in exchange for compensation. Consequently, Sneed received a sentence of life without parole, and Glossip was found guilty and condemned to die.
If nothing else, Glossip’s case exemplifies how easy it can be to receive a death sentence even with an astonishing paucity of evidence. In fact, the prosecution’s case against Glossip centered on circumstantial evidence and Sneed’s highly questionable testimony, which has changed no fewer than eight times. Last year, as Glossip’s execution loomed, his pro bono defense team discovered three witnesses who came forward to cast serious doubt on Sneed’s allegations. Considering that Sneed’s suspicious testimony is the only evidence linking Glossip to the murder, his case certainly merits another look.
Just like any other state that still has the death penalty on the books, Oklahoma’s capital punishment program is irrevocably broken.