OK Death Row Case Will Change The Way America Views Capital Punishment

Richard Glossip’s supporters claim he is being executed because he is poor.

Richard Glossip, Oklahoma, Oklahoma Man Execution


The hour before Richard Glossip's scheduled execution on Sept. 30 at 3 p.m. local time, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin stayed the execution due to the Department of Corrections receiving potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride. His execution has been moved to Nov. 6, 2015.

“Last minute questions were raised today about Oklahoma’s execution protocol and the chemicals used for lethal injection,” said Fallin. “After consulting with the attorney general and the Department of Corrections, I have issued a 37 day stay of execution while the state addresses those questions and ensures it is complying fully with the protocols approved by federal courts ... My sincerest sympathies go out to the Van Treese family, who has waited so long to see justice done."

The case, which gained international attention this week, dates all the way back to 1997 when Glossip was working as a manager at the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City.

He was charged and convicted of being involved in the murder of his boss, Barry Van Treese, based on his co-worker Justin Sneed's testimony.

Sneed confessed to the murder and testified that Glossip bribed him to commit the crime. No physical evidence was presented that tied Glossip to the crime. Sneed was not given the death penalty. 


Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip is set to be executed on Sept. 30 despite evidence he may actually be innocent. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled 3-2 to move forward with the execution and not issue another stay.

Glossip won a last-minute reprieve from the state's Court of Criminal Appeals just three hours before his scheduled execution two weeks ago. The court granted Glossip a rare stay until Sept. 30 to give full consideration of the materials that could prove Glossip's innocence.

Glossip was granted the postponement given the wealth of evidence that continues to emerge. Evidence suggests the death row inmate might not have killed his boss, Barry Van Treese, in 1997, and even that prosecutors destroyed evidence proving Glossip right and the prosecution wrong.

Activists believe Glossip's case will leave a lasting legacy on how Americans view the death penalty. 

“If they kill Richard today, or if they don’t, the landscape has changed, because it will be an excellent example of how you can kill an innocent man. The American people are waking up. Richard will have helped if he lives or if he dies,”  anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean said.

As Al Jazeera points out, a National Academy of Sciences report published in April 2014 found that more than 4 percent of death row inmates are actually innocent. For every ten people put to death in this country, one person is exonerated, according to the Equal Justice Initiative. Individuals who are wrongfully convicted are not rare or isolated events. Too often, false testimony or confessions leads to the innocent being incriminated. 

In Glossip's case, Justin Sneed, his co-worker, had confessed to murdering Van Treese but claimed it was Glossip's idea. Yet because Sneed agreed with prosecutors to testify against Glossip he got life without parole while Glossip was sentenced to death. 

Sneed could easily fit into the role of "jailhouse snitch", a person facing criminal charges who cooperates with prosecutors to testify in exchange for a lighter sentence. "Jailhouse snitch" testimonies are a leading cause of wrongful convictions in death penalty cases, according to a 2005 study done by the Northwestern Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions.

"An astonishing 82 percent of death row inmates did not deserve to receive the death penalty," Columbia University professor James Liebman said after examining thousands of execution sentences by 34 states from 1973 to 1995. "One in twenty death row inmates is later found not guilty."

The case will no doubt be influential in changing the perspective of execution in American society, as many have grappled with the stark reality that often innocent individuals are sentenced to death based upon faulty evidence. 

After maintaining his innocence for nearly 17 years on death row, Richard Glossip is scheduled to be executed by Oklahoma on Sept. 16 – unless Gov. Mary Fallin grants him a 60-day stay on his sentence.

It’s still unclear if Glossip hired or ordered Justin Sneed to kill their mutual boss, Barry Van Treese, 18 years ago. There’s also a dearth of evidence to corroborate Sneed’s dubious testimony, which is the only proof against Glossip. Yet, the 52-year-old man will be put to death by a lethal injection this week.

“Richard is sentenced to death because he’s poor,” Glossip’s new attorney Donald Knight told the Guardian. “Not very many people can afford a death penalty defense. That should scare everyone.”

A lot of people have come out in his support in the past couple of years, including Sister Helen Prejean and celebrities such as Susan Sarandon and Richard Branson.

“The fact that Richard Glossip is facing imminent death based on such flawed and threadbare evidence shows just how broken our court system is,” Prejean wrote for the CNN. “And the case is also a betrayal of the constitutional ideal of fairness that we all cherish, and of a group of people summoned to pass life-or-death judgment. They will be forced to live with the question and possible doubt that they may have sentenced to death an innocent man.”

Recommended: This U.S. State Is Bringing Back Firing Squads

While Glossip has gained a lot of support, it’s not known for sure if he is innocent or guilty. But that’s exactly why he should live, Barry Scheck, co-Founder and co-Director of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization that helps exonerate wrongly convicted people, argued in his blog for the Huffington Post.

“If we keep executing defendants in cases like this, where the evidence of guilt is tenuous and untrustworthy, we will keep killing innocent people,” Scheck wrote.

Around 300,000 people have signed petitions calling for a stay on Glossip’s execution including one on MoveOn.org, initiated by Prejean and Sarandon and another on Change.org.

His attorneys claimed to have new evidence in the case this week. However, their new findings are not enough to stop the execution, which is why people are asking Gov. Fallin for more time.

View Comments

Recommended For You