House Hears New Evidence In Controversial Death Penalty Case

by Phil Cross

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma lawmakers got a preview of new evidence collected in the controversial death penalty case of Richard Glossip.  The testimony came during an interim study on the death penalty in Oklahoma.

Glossip is currently on death row.  He is accused of planning the murder of his boss, Barry Van Treese.  He’s been within hours of execution on three different occasions.  

A woman who used to work at the strip club located to, the then-named, Best Budget Inn, said one of her friends who worked at the club in 1997 told her she was getting rid of evidence related to the murder of Barry Van Treese and that she would not “go down” for the murder.

It is uncontested that Justin Sneed beat Barry Van Treese to death in a room at the hotel he owned in 1997.  During his interrogation, police investigators suggested to Sneed he wasn’t alone in the murder and mentioned the name of the hotel manager, Richard Glossip to him.  

Sneed agreed to testify that Glossip planned the murder and paid him to commit the murder in exchange for a life sentence instead of the death penalty.  Glossip received the death sentence.  His initial conviction was overturned due to ineffective counsel.  Glossip turned down a plea deal because he said he wasn’t guilty.  A second trial resulted in another death sentence.

Attorney Don Knight joined Glossip’s legal defense team five years ago at the request of Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun who gained fame for her work with death penalty prisoners.  She wrote the book Dead Man Walking, which was later turned into a movie.  

During Wednesday’s hearing, Knight declined to name new witnesses saying past witnesses who offered testimony in favor of Glossip were harassed by law enforcement.  

Lawmakers questioned whether there is a legal remedy for Glossip.  Knight said Oklahoma law doesn’t allow condemned inmates to present new evidence to the court no matter how compelling.  

Glossip is “procedurally” barred from presenting evidence of his innocence because the court says his first appellate attorneys should have uncovered these claims years ago.  However, this information was not uncovered until recently due, in part, to the international media coverage of Glossip’s case.  

Glossip’s 2015 execution date was halted after corrections officials discovered they had the wrong drugs to perform the execution.  His case effectively halted executions in Oklahoma while officials worked to fix errors with the system.  A bipartisan commission would go on to release a 272 page report about the issues facing the death penalty in Oklahoma. To date, not all of the commission’s recommendations have been adopted.

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