OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Attorney General Gentner Drummond has filed a motion to vacate the conviction of death row inmate Richard Glossip.
“I haven’t lived forever, so I can’t say it’s never happened before, but I don’t know of any situation like this,” said Don Knight, Glossip’s attorney.
Drummond said his final decision is based on a careful consideration of the law and what he deemed is in the best interests of justice. The AG added that Glossip case has been “long dogged by doubt and controversy.”
“After thorough and serious deliberation, I have concluded that I cannot stand behind the murder conviction and death sentence of Richard Glossip,” he said. “This is not to say I believe he is innocent. However, it is critical that Oklahomans have absolute faith that the death penalty is administered fairly and with certainty. Considering everything I know about this case, I do not believe that justice is served by executing a man based on the testimony of a compromised witness.”
Glossip has been on Oklahoma’s death row for nearly 25 years.
“I don’t know that there’s any other case in the country that’s ever had this kind of a fight,” said House Representative Kevin McDugle, (R-Broken Arrow).
He was initially charged with accessory to murder on Jan. 15, 1997, after the murder of his boss, Barry Van Treese.
Drummond began working on the case soon after taking office.
While investigating, he learned that the State had long withheld a box of materials from Glossip’s defense team. Drummond has since provided access to those materials, referred to as ‘Box 8’, and appointed an independent counsel to conduct a comprehensive review of the case.
The AG’s office says Box 8 and the findings from that review formed much of the basis for the State’s motion to vacate Glossip’s conviction and remand to the district court.
Glossip’s co-worker, Justin Sneed confessed to beating Van Treese to death in an Oklahoma City motel room. As part of a plea agreement to avoid the death penalty, Sneed testified that Glossip offered to pay him for the killing.
As a result, Glossip was charged and eventually convicted of first-degree murder in 1998. Sneed, who was the prosecution’s key witness against Glossip and the murderer of Van Treese, was convicted and received a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals later overturned Glossip’s conviction for ineffective assistance of counsel. He was convicted and sentenced to death again at a 2004 retrial.
On Thursday, Knight explained that the evidence from “Box 8” casted doubt about the credibility of Sneed’s testimony. Sneed allegedly lied about his history of mental illness.
“This was a man who was suffering from a serious mental illness and was on methamphetamine. So, that’s the reliability problem,” said Knight.
Over the years, Glossip has had his execution date delayed at least seven times.
In 2017, Donna Van Treese, Barry’s widow, told KFOR she was confident the state had the right man.
“Without a doubt in my mind, they have who was responsible for masterminding it, who was responsible for covering it up afterwards, who was responsible for the actual crime,” she said.
His current execution date is set for May 18, 2023, after Drummond successfully petitioned for an execution delay in January.
The AG also recently filed for another stay of execution until 2024. The court has not reviewed this motion yet.
Drummond said he cannot imagine the pain and anxiety that a development like this must cause the Van Treese family.
“My heart truly goes out to the Van Treese family, who have been waiting decades for a final measure of justice,” Drummond said. “The family and friends of Barry Van Treese have been in pain for 26 years, and what they have lost cannot be restored. I hope and pray that one day they will find peace.”
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals still has to rule on the AG’s request.
“If it’s vacated, the conviction would be vacated,” explained Knight. “But the charges would still be there. So, he’d still remain charged as he’s been charged all these years.”
Knight explained then it would be up to the newly elected Oklahoma County District Attorney, Vicki Behenna, to decide whether to move forward with a retrial or if Glossip will be set free.
“The filing by AG Drummond states what we have long contended, that Justin Sneed, the State’s star witness against Mr. Glossip, is not credible. Now, even the State has concluded that “Justin Sneed made material misstatements to the jury regarding his psychiatric treatment and the reasons for his lithium prescription” and that the State “is compelled to correct these misstatements and permit the trier of fact the opportunity to weigh Sneed’s credibility with accurate information.” Furthermore, the AG’s own Independent Counsel confirms in his report what we have long known: Richard Glossip’s conviction is unreliable and granting him a new trial is required. The Independent Counsel’s report reached the same conclusion that the Reed Smith independent investigation for Oklahoma legislators did — that a cumulation of serious errors occurred that likely changed the outcome of his 2004 trial. It is now clear that it would be unconscionable for the State to move forward with Mr. Glossip’s execution when there is so much doubt surrounding his conviction. We thank General Drummond for his courageous decision to take a deeper look at this difficult case and urge the Court of Criminal Appeals to quickly grant the Attorney General’s request and remand Mr. Glossip’s case to the trial court for further proceedings.”Don Knight, attorney for Richard Glossip