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Report uncovers new evidence in death row inmate Richard Glossip's case, as Oklahoma lawmakers request new hearing

Richard E. Glossip, photo from February 2021
Oklahoma Department of Corrections
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Richard E. Glossip

A law firm claims new evidence has been discovered in the case of Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip.

Glossip was convicted of hiring an accomplice to murder his boss in 1997. His supporters claim he was condemned largely by bad police work, ineffective defense attorneys, false testimony from the actual murderer and dishonest prosecutors.

The law firm, Reed Smith, completed a 343-page investigative report in June.

In a recently released supplemental report, they say an uncovered handwritten note from 2007 shows Justin Sneed, the man who admitted to killing motel owner Barry Van Treese, wanted to recant his statement claiming Glossip hired him to carry out the murder. Sneed's attorney responded to his note, saying his testimony implicating Glossip is the reason he was not given the death penalty.

This follows 61 Oklahoma legislators — 44 Republicans and 17 Democrats — calling for a new evidentiary hearing in Glossip's case last week. The lawmakers sent a letter to Attorney General John O’Connor, asking him to join their request to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. They say the new evidence could prove Glossip is innocent.

"Over 40% of the Oklahoma legislature have signed on to ask Attorney General O’Connor to join Richard Glossip’s request for an evidentiary hearing," said Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow. "It is my hope and belief that AG O’Connor will move quickly and join this request to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals."

McDugle has been fighting for Glossip’s innocence for years, even filing legislation in 2021 that would have created Oklahoma’s first conviction integrity unit to review convictions. That bill failed to clear legislative hurdles.

"I believe that the people of Oklahoma deserve a full accounting of what went wrong in this case in a new hearing so we can ensure we are not executing an innocent man," McDugle said in June. "That's why my colleagues and I asked for this independent investigation, and why I am so convinced that we need a new hearing in this case to help fix what's been done to this man."

But, O’Connor declined the lawmakers’ request, saying it is the court’s authority to make decisions on claims raised on appeal.

“I look to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to carefully consider the claims before it and render a decision that complies with Oklahoma law,” O’Connor said.

Prosecutors in his office have urged the court to reject Glossip’s request for an evidentiary hearing.

Last-minute stays in 2015

Executions were put on hold for seven years in Oklahoma, following a last-minute stay of execution for Glossip in 2015. Then-Gov. Mary Fallin issued the stay when it was discovered the Department of Corrections received a shipment of potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride, as required in the state's execution protocol.

That was the third time Glossip’s execution was halted in 2015. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals had granted a two-week reprieve earlier that month, and the U.S. Supreme Court stopped a scheduled execution in January of that year. Glossip’s attorney has argued the repeated start-and-stop at the last minute amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

The incorrect shipment and use of drugs — as well as the botched lethal injections of Charles Warner in 2015 and Clayton Lockett in 2014 — prompted a multicounty grand jury to investigate Oklahoma’s execution procedures.

That investigation revealed that most Department of Corrections employees “profoundly misunderstood” the protocol and that no one verified the execution drugs prior to injection. The grand jury also condemned Fallin’s then-general counsel Steve Mullins for “flippantly and recklessly disregard[ing]” the state’s written protocol and rights' of inmates. Mullins knew about the wrong drug for hours before the stay was ordered, but advised officials to continue preparing for the execution anyway.

Oklahoma resumed executions in October 2021, when John Grant convulsed and vomited repeatedly after being administered the three-drug cocktail. Three other inmates — Bigler Stouffer, Donald Grant and Gilbert Postelle — were executed in late 2021 and early 2022. Those executions were all reported by witnesses to happen without any complications.

Forthcoming dates and hearings

Glossip is scheduled to be executed Sept. 22, but has a clemency hearing before the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board set for Aug. 23. His clemency petition was filed on Friday.

"His conviction is the product of an inexcusably negligent police investigation, coercive and unreliable interrogation techniques, intentional destruction by the State of key physical evidence prior to the trial, prosecutors’ presentation of unvetted, unreliable evidence, and incompetent state-provided defense attorneys, among other breakdowns of the justice system," the petition states.

Last week, the Pardon and Parole Board recommended clemency for another death row inmate, James Coddington. Gov. Kevin Stitt has yet to respond to that recommendation. If he rejects the recommendation, Coddington is set to be executed by lethal injection on Aug. 25 at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

Ryan LaCroix is the Director of Content and Audience Development for KOSU.
Hannah France is a reporter and producer for KGOU.
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