OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma death row inmate whose scheduled execution in May is opposed by the state’s top prosecutor as well as celebrities such as Kim Kardashian was set to ask the state’s parole board Wednesday to spare his life.
Richard Glossip has long maintained his innocence in the 1997 killing of his former boss, motel owner Barry Van Treese. The state’s Pardon and Parole Board will weigh whether to recommend clemency to Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, who can either commute Glossip’s sentence or allow the May 18 execution to proceed.
In an unusual move, Oklahoma’s Republican attorney general, Gentner Drummond, said he would ask the board to spare Glossip instead of asking that execution be allowed to proceed, which is what his office usually does in such cases. He said he wouldn’t argue that Glossip is innocent, but that Glossip deserves a new trial in light of numerous concerns about how his case was handled decades ago.
“I am not aware of an Oklahoma Attorney General ever supporting a clemency application for a death row inmate,” Drummond wrote in a letter to the parole board. But, he added, it is “simply not the case” the state has confidence in Glossip’s conviction.
Ahead of the hearing, Kardashian urged her millions of social media followers to contact the parole board and Stitt in a bid to stop the execution. Two years ago, she threw her support behind another Oklahoma death row inmate Julius Jones, whom Stitt spared just hours before his scheduled execution.
The parole board, which is comprised of five appointees — two former prosecutors, a former police officer, a former judge and a court administrator — typically decides whether to recommend clemency after hearing arguments from prosecutors, defense attorneys, the victim’s family and the condemned inmate. One board member recused himself from the Glossip decision because his spouse, a prosecutor, was previously involved in Glossip’s case.
Glossip also has a petition pending with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to stop his execution.
Last week, an Oklahoma appeals court upheld Glossip’s conviction despite Drummond’s concerns about some testimony and evidence.
Drummond said in a court filing that although the state isn’t suggesting that Glossip is innocent, he had numerous concerns about the case, such as trial evidence that was destroyed while his appeal was pending and the state’s failure to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence, including that the key witness against Glossip lied to the jury about his psychiatric treatment and reasons for taking the mood-stabilizing drug lithium. But the court rejected that request last month, paving the way for Glossip’s May execution.
Two independent investigations — one by a Houston law firm and another requested by Drummond — have concluded that based on all of the evidence available today, it would be unlikely a jury would vote to convict him.
Glossip was convicted and sentenced to death at two separate trials after his first conviction was tossed for ineffective counsel. The key witness against Glossip at both trials was Justin Sneed, a handyman at the motel who admitted robbing and killing Van Treese but claimed he did so only after Glossip promised to pay him $10,000. In exchange for his testimony, Sneed received life in prison. He has denied several Associated Press interview requests.
Glossip’s attorneys claim that police suspected Glossip because of some inconsistent statements he made during the search for Van Treese, and that while interviewing Sneed, he never mentioned Glossip until after detectives brought up his name six times and emphasized that Glossip was “snitching on him.” The attorneys suggest in their clemency application that Van Treese’s killing was not a murder for hire, but a botched robbery for drug money committed by Sneed and his girlfriend.
“Richard Glossip is an innocent man who has been the victim of a massive breakdown in the justice system that would have been disturbing had it occurred even in a minor case,” they wrote.
Glossip’s case attracted international attention after actress Susan Sarandon — who won an Academy Award for her portrayal of death penalty opponent Sister Helen Prejean’s fight to save a man on Louisiana’s death row in the 1995 movie “Dead Man Walking” — took up his cause in real life. Prejean herself has served as Glossip’s spiritual adviser and frequently visited him in prison. His case also was featured in a 2017 documentary film titled “Killing Richard Glossip.”
Follow Sean Murphy on Twitter: @apseanmurphy