Two weeks ago, Oklahoma was hours away from executing Richard Glossip when a state court stepped in and delayed his execution so it could consider his appeals. On Monday, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals said it was rejecting these appeals and Glossip’s request for a stay of execution. As a result, Glossip’s lethal injection remains scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
Glossip’s case has stretched over the better part of two decades, but it has received renewed attention as his execution date approached. His attorneys asked the state appeals court to halt his execution earlier this month because they argued that Glossip was improperly tried and sentenced.
He was sentenced to death for the murder of a motel owner named Barry Van Treese, though he was not convicted of personally killing Van Treese. In 1997, Van Treese was beaten to death with a baseball bat, and Glossip — who worked for Van Treese — was found guilty of paying another motel worker to kill him.
Justin Sneed, who confessed to killing Van Treese, testified against Glossip, and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole while Glossip received a death sentence. Glossip, 52, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death two separate times. He was first sentenced in 1998, but that sentence was overturned due to what a state court deemed ineffective legal counsel, and he was sentenced again in 2004.
However, Glossip’s attorneys argue that executing him based on Sneed’s testimony “risks a wrongful execution.” They also submitted an affidavit from a man who said that while in an Oklahoma state prison, he heard Sneed say that Glossip hadn’t done anything.
The appeals court decided 3-2 to reject Glossip’s claims and arguments, finding that his conviction was “not based solely on the testimony of a codefendant” and adding that the same court believed Sneed’s testimony “was sufficiently corroborated for a conviction,” according to an opinion from Judge David Lewis.
Presiding Judge Clancy Smith dissented, though, arguing that “the tenuous evidence in this case is questionable at best” if Sneed had disavowed his earlier remarks, and writing that she would allow a 60-day stay to allow for an evidentiary hearing.
Glossip’s attorneys pointed to the 3-2 decision in arguing that a man should not be put to death when two judges felt the execution should be delayed.
“We should all be deeply concerned about an execution under such circumstances,” Donald Knight, an attorney for Glossip, said in a statement Monday afternoon.
The execution currently scheduled for Wednesday will mark the third time this year Oklahoma will attempt to put Glossip to death.
An execution date in January was nixed when the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear the case. The court later upheld Oklahoma’s protocol as constitutional, while Justice Stephen Breyer, in a dissent joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, questioned whether capital punishment itself was unconstitutional. That case bore Glossip’s name, though it was focused on the particular drugs used by Oklahoma and larger questions about how capital punishment is carried out in the United States.
Oklahoma had intended to execute Glossip on Sept. 16 in what would have been the state’s first execution since the Supreme Court ruling, but the appeals court called that off with hours to spare. When the order delaying the execution for two weeks came down, Glossip was so close to his scheduled execution time that he had already been served his final meal (which included chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, fish and chips and a strawberry malt).
In addition to their requests to the Oklahoma court, Glossip’s attorneys had also asked Gov. Mary Fallin (R) to stay the execution, arguing that the lethal injection should be halted due to new evidence. However, Fallin denied these requests, and she said her office determined that none of the evidence presented by Glossip’s attorneys changed her mind.
“After carefully reviewing the facts of this case multiple times, I see no reason to cast doubt on the guilty verdict reached by the jury or to delay Glossip’s sentence of death,” she said in a statement earlier this month. Fallin also said her office would respect the appeals court’s decision.
High-profile voices have called on state officials to call off Glossip’s execution due to the questions over his conviction. Sister Helen Prejean, a prominent death penalty opponent, and Susan Sarandon, an activist and actress who won an Oscar for portraying Prejean in the movie “Dead Man Walking,” both asked the state to stop the lethal injection.
As of Monday, more than 244,000 people had signed a MoveOn.org petition from Prejean and Sarandon asking Fallin to delay the execution due to “a breathtaking lack of evidence” in the case.
In a letter published earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), former University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer and Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, were among those who called on Fallin to”prevent a deadly mistake” and stay the execution.
“We also don’t know for sure whether Richard Glossip is innocent or guilty,” they wrote in the letter. “That is precisely the problem.”
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt had said after the execution was delayed earlier this month that he was confident that the appeals court would “conclude there is nothing worthy which would lead the court to overturn” Glossip’s guilty verdict and sentence.
“The family of Barry Van Treese has waited 18 agonizing years for justice to be realized for his brutal death,” Pruitt said in a statement.
After the bungled execution of Clayton Lockett last year, Oklahoma postponed all executions for months while it investigated what happened and tinkered with its execution protocol. Lockett, a convicted murderer, grimaced and kicked during his prolonged execution, one of three lethal injections that went awry last year and drew increased scrutiny to the scattershot way executions are carried out in the United States.
The state’s investigation said it found problems with the insertion of the IV meant to deliver the lethal chemicals, and Oklahoma later altered its lethal injection policy to include a higher doze of the sedative midazolam.
This post has been updated.