Oklahoma’s attorney general is asking for a new trial in the case of death row inmate Richard Glossip, who has spent a quarter of a century in prison for the death of his boss in 1997.
“While the State has previously opposed relief for Glossip, it has changed its position based on a careful review of the new information that has come to light,” Attorney General Gentner F. Drummond wrote in a motion filed Thursday in an Oklahoma appeals court.
The request was made after a special counsel report released Thursday recommended Glossip’s capital murder conviction be vacated and that he be granted a new trial.
Glossip, 60, has insisted he was not involved in the killing of his boss, Barry Van Treese. He has narrowly avoided death three times, as previous execution dates ended with reprieves or stays of execution.
It’s now up to the Oklahoma Court of Appeals to decide whether to grant or deny the request for a new trial. Glossip is currently scheduled to be executed on May 18.
Glossip, a former motel manager, has been behind bars for 26 years. He was convicted of capital murder for ordering the killing of Van Treese.
Another employee, then-19-year-old Justin Sneed, admitted to killing Van Treese with a baseball bat in Oklahoma City. But prosecutors told jurors Sneed killed Van Treese in a murder-for-hire plot orchestrated by Glossip.
Sneed received a life sentence in exchange for his testimony against Glossip.
But recently revealed evidence proves Glossip’s innocence, his defense team says.
“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,” Glossip’s attorney, Don Knight, said in a statement Thursday.
“We thank (Attorney) 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,” Knight added.
‘Do I have the choice of recanting my testimony’
The international law firm Reed Smith spent more than 3,000 pro bono hours investigating Glossip’s case and published a 343-page report last year, commissioned by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers.
The independent investigation “revealed the state’s intentional destruction of evidence before trial and an inadequate police investigation,” Reed Smith said.
The law firm and Glossip’s attorney have since uncovered more evidence, including letters Sneed wrote in prison. The letters are part of an amendment to Reed Smith’s initial report.
In one letter to his attorney, Sneed wrote in part, “There are a lot of things right now that are eating at me. Somethings I need to clean up.”
In another letter, Sneed wrote, “Do I have the choice of recanting my testimony at any time during my life …”
In a separate letter shown to CNN, Sneed’s public defender responded to one of his letters saying, “I can tell by the tone of your letter that some things are bothering you … Had you refused (to testify against Glossip) you would most likely be on death row right now.”
The Oklahoma County public defender’s office, responsible for Sneed’s attorney at the time, has declined to comment.
“We always suspected that Justin Sneed really wanted to, at some point, tell the truth,” said Knight, Glossip’s attorney. “But from those papers, we could tell that even though he was trying to, his lawyer at the time was telling him, ‘Don’t do it.’”
Drummond, the attorney general, said in a Thursday news release he “cannot stand behind the murder conviction and death sentence” of Glossip.
“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,” Drummond said. “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.”
3 last meals and expecting to die again and again
Glossip has been on the verge of execution three times before, even being served three separate last meals, Knight told CNN earlier this year.
He was first convicted of capital murder and sentenced in 1998, but that was overturned in 2001 because of ineffective defense counsel.
He was convicted again in 2004 and again sentenced to death. That year, Glossip was more than an hour past his execution time when the governor issued a stay based on the constitutionality of the state’s execution protocols.
Glossip’s decades on death row have been punctuated by a spate of reprieves and stays of execution.
In an interview with CNN earlier this year, Glossip said he’s still anxious as each execution date nears.
“It’s still scary, it will always be scary until they finally open this door and let me go, or remove this from over my head completely, so I don’t have to worry about, ‘Are they going to kill me next month? Or the month after that? When does time finally run out?’”