This week Oklahoma was poised to execute an arguably innocent man. His reprieve came only hours before his planned death and it only bought him another two weeks. His name is Richard Glossip, and he is one of many potentially innocent men on death row and his case has reignited the death penalty debate, and the viability of its methods, across America.
Nearly twenty years ago, the murder of Barry Van Treese was discovered at the Best Budget Inn he owned. In a matter of weeks, the hotel handyman (and methamphetamine addict), Justin Sneed was arrested and charged with the murder. He confessed, and DNA and fingerprint evidence supported his confession. Sneed then implicated Glossip, who he alleged was stealing from the hotel, as the planner and contractor of the deed. While no physical evidence was ever found to implicate Glossip, he was arrested and charged for the murder. Sneed’s testimony earned him a life-sentence, sparing him the death penalty, but put Glossip up for execution.
Convicted of murder-for-hire, despite any evidence other than Sneed’s life-saving accusation, Glossip now faced the death penalty. Despite varying and inconsistent testimony from Sneed during two trials, Glossip’s conviction was upheld. Furthermore, transcripts indicate that Sneed was coached, by detectives, in how he handled his confession as it pertains to the involvement of Glossip. Exacerbating this situation, Glossip’s sentence for planning a murder is more severe than that of the person who committed the deed.
After years of fighting the case, Glossip was due for execution this week. Most likely due to a tremendous amount of media coverage, and vigorous campaigning from the likes of Sister Helen Prejean (the nun who inspired the film, Dead Man Walking) Glossip finally caught a break. He was granted a two-week stay of execution by the Oklahoma court of appeals. His only hope hinges on the court reviewing previously withheld information regarding Sneed: that he was an intravenous meth user who frequently stole from the hotel, and that no evidence suggests Glossip was a dishonest or detrimental employee. He was actually awarded raises during his employment.
The other issue this case highlights is with the method of execution that would be used. After a recent string of disastrous, lethal injection executions, the efficiency and ethical nature of this practice has fallen under scrutiny. Two recent executions have been far from the humane practice that is advertised, where one inmate writhed as he gasped for air 600 times and the other took an eternity of twenty-six minutes to ultimately pass on. The problem drug, midazolam, has been in question for some time; yet the proposed solution is just use more of it.
While Richard Glossip isn’t the only man insisting his innocence on death row, there have been various cases with inconsistencies, and many exonerations in the recent years, particularly as DNA evidence had become more available and prevalent. It certainly bring to mind cases like the West Memphis three, where years of fighting the case brought to light over-zealous prosecution practices, evidence omission, and general bias. What do you think? Is each conviction an open and shut case of definitive guilt? Is the use of midazolam a fair and humane way to administer the death penalty? Are there any other reasonable solutions to either issue?
Check back with us as this story continues…
September 18, 2015 / Ryan Serey