First published in Voices of Liberty on 8/24/2015
Richard Glossip will be executed on September 16 unless Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin intervenes on his behalf.
The state’s flimsy case [spn-media-asset pos=1 align=left]against Glossip bears the hallmarks of numerous wrongful convictions that have marred America’s defective death penalty system. By all accounts, he did not commit the murder for which he’s languished on death row for over a decade and a half, and no material evidence linking him to the crime exists. His conviction is due to his inept defense attorney and the overwhelmingly biased testimony of the real and admitted killer.
In the mid 1990’s, Richard Glossip was the manager of the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City. Its owner, Barry Van Treese, frequently visited the property and regrettably decided to stay the night in early January 1997. While he was sleeping, a man entered Van Treese’s room, bludgeoned him to death with a baseball bat, and covered his body with bedding to temporarily conceal the crime. During the altercation, Van Treese defended himself in vain, leaving the room’s window broken. The offender then moved Van Treese’s vehicle to a nearby parking lot and stole an envelope stuffed with cash from under the driver’s seat. The following night, the police located the father of five’s body in room 102 of the motel, still wearing his t-shirt proclaiming his faith that read “Jesus Carry the Cross for Us.”
Glossip, who had no criminal record, was apprehended by the police and interrogated. He explained that Justin Sneed, the inn’s maintenance worker who had a history of criminal activity, admitted to him that he had murdered Van Treese, even though Glossip at first believed he was lying. Sneed was known for hyperbole and downright dishonesty.
Days later, the police finally captured Sneed who had attempted to elude the authorities. Upon questioning, he admitted that he not only moved Van Treese’s car and stole his money, but he also acknowledged that he murdered him. Physical evidence also corroborated this part of Sneed’s story. This should have made this an open and shut case, but the investigators were not satisfied. They urged Sneed to name an accomplice and practically spoon-fed him information to identify Glossip as the crime’s mastermind. By claiming that someone else was involved and naming a co-conspirator, Sneed avoided the death penalty – not a bad deal for him.
Sneed’s story changed on numerous occasions, but he roughly purported that Glossip requested that he murder Van Treese in exchange for thousands of dollars and a job promotion. He alleged that Glossip was concerned that Van Treese was planning on terminating his employment and believed that, with Van Treese dead, he could take over his business operation. According to Sneed, that was the impetus for Glossip’s murderous schemes. There was no physical evidence linking Glossip to the crime and no evidence corroborating Sneed’s allegations against him, which were the cornerstone of the case against Glossip.
By most accounts, Glossip was an exemplary employee who had received bonuses in 11 of the previous 12 months of employment from Van Treese, and the two were even friends. However, Glossip only earned a salary of $1,500 a month, hardly the kind of income needed to afford paying Sneed thousands of dollars. In fact, Glossip sold much of what he owned to retain a defense attorney, but he mustered less than $2,000.
It now appears that Justin Sneed may be considering contradicting his implication of Glossip. His daughter O’Ryan Justine Sneed wrote that she believes that Glossip is an innocent man, and she even confided in a letter to the parole board that “For a couple of years now, my father has been talking to me about recanting his original testimony. I feel his conscious [sic] is getting to him.” However, her letter arrived too late to be considered by the board.
The case against Glossip is representative of a death penalty system rife with contradiction, uncertainty, and error. The admitted killer was not sentenced to death. Instead, he was given a lesser sentence in exchange for placing the blame on someone else. However, the video of Sneed’s implication of Glossip was never shown to a jury. If jurors witnessed law enforcement officers leading the prisoner during questioning, then they may not have believed his unsubstantiated tale, which would have undermined the state’s case. The prosecutors moved forward despite a dearth of evidence validating Sneed’s claim, and thanks to an insufficient defense attorney, Glossip was sentenced to death.
Is Glossip innocent? It’s impossible to say given the evidence that we have. His case certainly merits further investigation and warrants questioning Sneed again. At the very least, Glossip deserves a reprieve in light of weak evidence against him. He has exhausted his appeals, and his execution date is fast approaching. In fact, he even came within one day of being executed before receiving a temporary stay. His current attorneys are pleading with Governor Mary Fallin to postpone his execution for 60 days to give them the opportunity to track down the witnesses and interview Sneed.
This case should be offensive to those who believe in the far from radical notion that governments shouldn’t execute citizens who may be innocent. When a life hangs in the balance, it only makes sense to take the necessary time to investigate compelling claims of innocence, as found in Glossip’s case.