Dozens of state lawmakers in Oklahoma (several of whom support the death penalty) are urging the state to consider new evidence that might clear death row inmate Richard Glossip, who has been scheduled to be executed on September 22.
In a letter dated August 4, 61 state legislators urged Attorney General John O'Connor to join a request by Glossip for a new evidentiary hearing to look over some of the information compiled by national law firm Reed Smith that purports to show Glossip's possible innocence.
Glossip is on death row for the 1997 murder of Barry Van Treese. Glossip did not actually kill Van Treese himself. Rather he was convicted for allegedly masterminding a plan for Justin Sneed (who was 19 at the time) to kill Van Treese. Van Treese owned the hotel in Oklahoma City where the two men worked; Glossip was the manager and Sneed a maintenance man. Sneed claimed that Glossip pressured him and offered him money in return for the deed. Glossip would ultimately be convicted twice—the first conviction being tossed in 2001—and sent to death row almost entirely on Sneed's claims. For his part, Sneed was spared the death sentence, accepted a plea deal, and sent to prison for life for beating Van Treese to death with a baseball bat.
Glossip was scheduled for execution in 2015, but he was spared when prison officials realized they had received an incorrect drug for the cocktail they use to execute inmates. The governor ordered a stay on all executions until officials could figure out what happened. Executions in the state were paused until just last year.
In June, after successfully fighting off a constitutional challenge to the state's execution methods, O'Connor began the process of rescheduling dozens of executions for the inmates sitting on death row. Glossip is second on the list, and the rescheduling has prompted a new push for a chance to prove his innocence.
Reed Smith released a lengthy report and summary in July laying out some of the problems with the case. The report shows that police investigating the murder immediately suspected Glossip and when interrogating Sneed repeatedly brought up Glossip's name and essentially pushed Sneed to point the finger back at Glossip. Jurors were not played the interrogation tape at either of Glossip's two trials. Other problems with the case have been highlighted in depth over the past decade.
This week, Reed Smith released an update that shows a letter Sneed allegedly sent from prison in 2007, following Glossip's second trial, to Gina K. Walker, the public defender who handled his case. In the letter, Sneed says he's planning to contact the attorneys with the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System (OIDS) who represented Glossip in the second trial. "I think you know were [sic] I'm going," Sneed wrote, "It was a mistake reliving this." He asks Walker to write back.
Walker (who died in 2020) wrote him back acknowledging that "some things are bothering [him]." She says she knows OIDS lawyers attempted to talk to him on Glossip's behalf and says that had Sneed refused a plea deal, he would be on death row himself. She is unsympathetic to Glossip's situation, saying, "Mr. Glossip has had two opportunities to save himself and refused to do so both times," meaning that Glossip had refused plea offers of his own and insisted on a right to a trial to prove his innocence. She concludes, "I hope he has not or his lawyers have not tried to make you feel responsible for the outcome of his case and his decisions."
Of course, Walker's job here is to defend her client and discourage Sneed from making decisions against his own interest. And the fact that Sneed is not on death row himself is likely attributable to his acceptance of the plea deal. But the tone of both Sneed's letter and Walker's response should clearly cast doubt on the circumstances of Van Treese's murder.
This newly revealed letter has prompted Oklahoma state Rep. Kevin McDugle (R–Broken Arrow) to push harder for a new hearing on the evidence against Glossip.
"In 2014, there were statements circulating that Sneed's daughter said Sneed wanted to recant, but she never came forward. With this letter written by Sneed, we have compelling new evidence that strongly supports what we heard. That Sneed wanted to recant his statement implicating Richard Glossip and his attorney shut him down," said McDugle in a prepared statement. "Given that the state's case rests entirely upon Sneed's testimony implicating Glossip, it is imperative that the court remand the case for a hearing before Richard is scheduled to be executed on September 22."
Prosecutors in O'Connor's office have been resisting this push and urging Oklahoma's courts to reject the hearing as a delaying tactic.