Oklahoma: execution frenzy continues; more evidence of Glossip innocence

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Oklahoma killed Benjamin Cole last week, a severely mentally ill man who did not understand the legal proceedings surrounding his execution. The 57-year-old Cole was convicted of killing his nine-month-old daughter, Brianna, in 2002. 

Ben lacked a rational understanding of why Oklahoma took his life today,attorney Tom Hird said in a statement issued after Cole was killed. Benjamin Cole was a person with serious mental illness whose schizophrenia and brain damage went undiagnosed and untreated for many years, eventually leading to the tragic crime for which he was executed. Over his years on death row, Ben slipped into a world of delusion and darkness.

As Oklahoma proceeds with its relentless march to execute one mentally ill, traumatized man after another, we should pause to ask whether this is really who we are and who we want to be.

It was the state’s fourth execution this year. It plans to kill Richard Fairchild, whose clemency appeal was denied by the parole board earlier this month, on November 17, and John Hanson in December. 

Its killing spree will continue through 2023 and 2024, with ten men scheduled to be executed each year, approximately one man per month until January 2024. 

Richard Glossip was scheduled to be killed on September 22. But Gov. Kevin Stitt stayed his execution until December 8 to allow time for the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to address a request by 61 Oklahoma lawmakers — more than a third of the state assembly — including Republican death penalty supporters, to the CCA for an evidentiary hearing for Glossip. 

The legislators’ request for the hearing came after the law firm Reed Smith conducted an investigation at their request, and the firm released its first report in June, which concluded that “Glossip’s 2004 trial cannot be relied on to support a murder-for-hire conviction. Nor can it provide a basis for the government to take the life of Richard E. Glossip.” 

That report was followed by three supplemental accounts, which Reed Smith states “uncovered several new findings that bolster this assertion.” Its fourth report, issued two weeks ago, features analysis by Oklahoma City University School of Law Emeritus Professor Lawrence Hellman. He “determined sufficient basis exists for an evidentiary hearing to assess the evidence and make findings of fact regarding apparent professional misconduct by the state’s lead prosecutor during Glossip’s retrial,” according to the law firm.

Glossip, now 59, was sentenced to death in 1997, convicted of engineering the murder of Barry Van Treese, the owner of a motel where Glossip worked. The actual killer was Justin Sneed, a motel maintenance worker who admitted to beating Van Treese to death with a baseball bat. But Sneed claimed Glossip was the mastermind of the murder and had offered him $10,000 to kill Van Treese. Sneed was sentenced to life without parole. Glossip has always maintained his innocence.

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