Is Oklahoma about to execute an innocent man?

September 13, 2015

Richard Glossip is scheduled to be executed by the State of Oklahoma on Wednesday. He was convicted of killing his boss, Barry Van Treese, who was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat at a Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City that Van Treese owned. The only witness against him was the person who confessed to the murder, a 19-year-old named Justin Sneed who worked as a maintenance man at the motel. The Guardian reports,

There is no DNA or nor any fingerprints linking him to the 1997 murder of Van Treese in the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City. His lawyers this week noted that the prosecutors themselves admitted in 2004 that “the physical evidence doesn’t directly implicate Mr Glossip”.

Rather, Glossip was convicted based on the testimony of Justin Sneed, a 19-year-old maintenance worker who, at various points during his police interrogation a week after the murder, said he didn’t know Van Treese, then that he didn’t kill van Treese, then that he had killed him accidentally, and then that he had killed him intentionally, under Glossip’s instruction. Eventually, Sneed agreed to a plea deal in which he would testify against Glossip to save himself from the death penalty.

Transcripts of the police interrogation show Sneed first denied any knowledge of the murder. “I don’t really know what to say about it,” he told investigators, stumbling over a story about his brother before admitting that he robbed Van Treese but “I only meant to knock him out”.

“The thing about it is, Justin, we think – we know that this involves more than just you, okay?” Detective Bob Bemo said to Sneed, later introducing Glossip as a snitch. “You know Rich is under arrest don’t you?… [H]e’s putting it on you the worst.”

Sneed’s story shifted.

“Actually, Rich asked me to kill Barry, that’s what he’d done,” Sneed said, and investigators took the conversation off-camera, where Sneed signed a plea deal.

This is an excellent example of how an innocent person can be wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. A few days ago, Barry Scheck, the co-director of the Innocence Project, wrote a letter to Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin asking her to stop his execution. He asked the right question,

Why would anybody trust this testimony, given by a man like Sneed under the circumstances in which he gave it? But if Sneed was lying about Glossip’s involvement — as he unquestionably lied in his various contradictory statements–then Oklahoma is about to execute an innocent man.

The Death Penalty Information Center has the following update on Richard Glossip:

Former Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn (pictured), former Oklahoma Sooners and Dallas Cowboys football coach Barry Switzer, and John W. Raley, Jr., the former chief federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, have joined with innocence advocates Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, and Samuel Gross, editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, in a letter to Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin urging her to stay the execution of Richard Glossip.

I have long argued that no conviction that is based solely on the uncorroborated testimony of a codefendant or jailhouse snitch should stand. Such a rule is a necessary part of any meaningful criminal justice reform.


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