McALESTER, Okla. — Worldwide attention has been fixed on Oklahoma State Penitentiary recently as Oklahoma is one of a handful of states pushing ahead with state-funded execution for convicted murders.
Capital punishment has come under fire recently as lethal injection drugs became unavailable, opening the door for last-minute legal maneuvering and re-igniting the discussion on cruel and unusual punishment.
According to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, the average execution age is 38 years old. Most prisoners will be housed on death row, known as H-Unit, 12 years before their time is up.
Richard Glossip has lived on H-block for 17 years. His execution date was delayed twice, and is currently on stay by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“It’s like you’re in a tomb,” Glossip said during a rare death row interview with Ali Meyer. “Just waiting to die so they can finish it off.”
Glossip’s tomb was sealed shut by two juries following the brutal murder of Barry Van Treese.
Van Treese was the owner of the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City in 1997. The motel handyman bludgeoned him to death while he slept.
The state first arrested the young handyman, Justin Sneed, and then went after Glossip alleging a case of murder-for-hire.
“My daughter begged him not to go that day. She was seven (years old).” said Barry Van Treese’s widow, Donna Van Treese.
The murderers left Barry Van Treese’s seven children fatherless; his wife a widow, the single-mom of five young kids.
“The toughest job I’ve ever had… How do you tell your kids they’re never going to see their dad again?” Donna said.
Eighteen years since the day she lost her husband, and Donna Van Treese is ready for his killer to die.
She is unconcerned about a dignified or merciful death.
“Really not. Did his victims, or any of the victims, have any choice in the way they died?” said Donna Van Treese. “Would I wish a cruel death on anyone? No. I’m hoping that it is quick.”
Justin Sneed was the state’s star witness, and the only proof Glossip was involved at all.
Both sides agreed, Richard Glossip wasn’t even in the room when Barry Van Treese was murdered.
Prosecutors said hiring out the murder was worse.
Justin Sneed was spared his life. Prosecutors cut a deal so that Sneed was given a life sentence in exchange for his testimony against Richard Glossip.
Glossip said he was also offered a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, but he declined the deal, because he refused to plead guilty for a crime he said he didn’t do.
“We say now that we’re going to reserve the death penalty for the worst killers in the worst killings. But it’s clear in this instance that Mr. Glossip did not have the capability of taking another life.” said Glossip’s attorney, Mark Henricksen. “It seems bizarre that the person who did get a life sentence and the person who did not is a few days away from execution.”
The U.S. Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment.
“The Supreme Court has expressed that we will not execute people cruelly. We will not torture people to death. It goes against American values, and Oklahoma certainly has not persuaded me that we’ve prevented that.” Henricksen said.
The Oklahoma death chamber has a fresh coat of paint now, an updated protocol, and a to-do list 49 inmates long.
A few doors down from the execution chamber, Glossip, steadfastly declaring his innocence, says they have the wrong man.
Glossip had always maintained he is guilty of helping Sneed cover up the murder, after the fact. But, he said he had nothing to do with the planning of the crime.
“After the fact I made some stupid decisions. I’m not saying I didn’t.” said Glossip. “If stupid’s a crime, I’m guilty of being stupid. But I’ve sure paid my price for that.”
The Van Treese family has full confidence in the judicial process and in the verdict for both Glossip and Sneed.
“Without a doubt in my mind, they have who was responsible for masterminding it, and who was responsible for covering up afterward, and who was responsible for the actual crime.” Van Treese said.
The U.S. Supreme Court will soon weigh in on Oklahoma’s death cocktail and the question of whether it serves up sufficient portions of mercy and justice.
“The dying part doesn’t bother me. Everybody dies. But, I want people to know I didn’t kill this man. I didn’t participate or plan or anything to do with this crime.” Glossip said.
Donna Van Treese will not go to McAlester to witness the execution of her husband’s killer.