Oklahoma Death Row inmate Richard Glossip’s quest for freedom continued Wednesday when a cadre of lawyers and lawmakers assembled in the Oklahoma House of Representatives Press Room to present the findings of a new independent investigation into his case. Glossip has been on Death Row for 25 years for the 1997 murder-for-hire of his boss, hotel owner Barry Van Treese, a crime he says he did not commit. He’s accused of hiring Justin Sneed to undertake the crime; Sneed is serving life in prison.
The investigation, which launched in February, was undertaken pro-bono by 30 attorneys from law firm Reed Smith at the behest of 35 Oklahoma state lawmakers, including 29 Republicans. Republican State Representatives Kevin McDugle and Blake “Cowboy” Stephens, were in attendance at the press conference, where McDugle outlined the findings of the investigation. He added that if the state of Oklahoma put Glossip to death, he would come out in opposition to the practice, despite being an advocate for the death penalty.
“I believe he’s totally innocent,” McDugle said. “Help me fight and do everything we can to get Richard Glossip off Death Row.”
According to McDugle, the investigation points out that neither jury in Glossip’s two trials was shown Sneed’s interrogation video, which lawyer Stan Perry said shows investigators mentioning Glossip six times in the first 20 minutes as the true mastermind behind the murder. “They planted in the mind of Sneed that Glossip did it,” Perry said. McDugle said that Perry’s team showed the video to former jury members and asked if they would have found Glossip guilty had they seen it in court; they, apparently, replied in the negative. Also, the investigation alleges that Sneed was given a plea deal to finger Glossip.
McDugle went on to say that the DA’s office reportedly destroyed a box of evidence before Glossip’s second trial (including duct tape, a shower curtain, and financial records) and that the prosecution’s key witness, Cliff Everhart, had a history of allegedly lying during court cases. There’s also the matter of an unknown person who apparently left the hotel the night of the murder — leaving his clothes behind — video of whom, captured at a neighboring gas station, disappeared after being put in evidence.
McDugle accused the DA’s office of “gross misconduct,” adding, “We need to right this wrong” by giving Glossip another trial. Perry added that after his law firm did 3,000 hours of pro-bono work, interviewed 38 witnesses, and sifted through 12,000 documents, he believes that “no reasonable jury hearing the complete record and the uncovered facts in this report would have convicted Richard Glossip of capital murder.”
“They had a narrow approach from the beginning and then they looked for facts to support [that view],” he added, pointing out that witnesses they spoke to have alleged that Sneed was addicted to meth and had a violent history, none of which was presented to the jury during either trial. There was also no DNA, forensic evidence, eyewitness, or confession in this case, which he believes should have necessitated an independent review.
“I don’t know [if this investigation can stop him from being executed,” he said. “It’s never too late until the person is executed. Our charge was to do justice. In our mind, it’s not too late to do justice.”
Current District Attorney David Prater did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.
Oklahoma resumed executing inmates in October; executions had been halted since 2015 after Glossip was almost put to death with potassium acetate — a chemical used to de-ice airplane wings — instead of potassium chloride. That mistake, as well as other mishandled executions, led the state to reevaluate procedures. New protocols were announced in March 2020, but were largely unchanged, according to an attorney supporting inmates in their fight to change the execution process. Namely, the procedure still included midazolam, a drug that inmates and their supporters claim does not affectively render prisoners unconscious, leading to a painful death.
Those inmates, including Glossip, fought in court for the process to be overhauled — a fight Glossip helped accelerate in 2015 in the Supreme Court — but, in the end, U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot ruled that Oklahoma’s drug protocol did not violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Previously, those who were part of the federal lawsuit were not on the execution list, but since the ruling, Oklahoma’s Attorney General has called for 25 of those inmates to be executed over the course of two years — and Glossip is second on the list.
Glossip’s innocence has been a subject of debate since then-18-year-old Justin Sneed beat Van Treese to death with a baseball bat in room 102 of the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on Jan. 7, 1997. According to the state, Glossip hired Sneed to kill his boss after Van Treese discovered that Glossip had been stealing from the business; Glossip was found guilty of first-degree murder in 1998 and sentenced to death, while Sneed got life without parole. Glossip, meanwhile, denies both stealing from his boss and hiring Sneed to kill him.
His first two trials were disastrous, according to his longtime lawyer Don Knight. At the initial trial, Glossip was represented by an untested lawyer — who has since been disbarred — who pressed his client to accept a plea. At the second, in 2001, his new lawyer intended to show Sneed’s confession tape, which, he said, depicted cops leading the teen to point to Glossip — something that was excluded from the first go-around. After Sneed claimed the lawyer, G. Lynn Burch, threatened him during a prison visit — something Burch denies — he was forced to recuse himself from the case and was replaced by, Knight claims, still more unprepared lawyers.
Glossip was denied clemency in 2014, but around that time gained the support of Knight, as well death penalty abolition advocates like Sister Helen Prejean, author of the 1993 book Dead Man Walking, Pope Francis, and Susan Sarandon. “What happened to Richard Glossip is a perfect example of the failures of our justice system,” Sarandon previously told Rolling Stone.
Glossip has faced execution three times over the last 25 years. The first, in 2015, was delayed due to a U.S. Supreme Court Case he helmed, Glossip v. Gross in which he and 19 other inmates petitioned for a writ of certiorari and stays of their executions after the botched 2014 execution of Clayton Lockett, who regained consciousness during the lethal injection procedure. The suit claimed that the use of midazolam — the anesthetic that apparently failed in Lockett’s execution — was cruel and unusual punishment. After the Supreme Court ruled against the inmates in 2015, Glossip was given a new date later that year. His next execution was stayed three hours before he was to be put to death, following an innocence petition drawn up by Knight asking for another hearing. Ultimately, he wasn’t given another hearing, but a new execution date that same month. That execution was canceled after the state discovered they had the wrong drug and executions shut down for the next several years.
“You only hear one side of the story more often than not about death row inmates, so they become these animals,” Glossip previously told Rolling Stone. “But in reality, if you follow the guidelines of the death penalty, the majority of the guys down here shouldn’t even be down here. … Too often people come in here and they just lay on their bunks and say, ‘You know what? I’m done.’ … And I try to encourage people that there’s always hope. Look at me, I survived three executions.”