Last Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court granted Richard Glossip a stay of execution to give the Court time to review two pending petitions. Glossip was scheduled to be executed by Oklahoma on May 18.
The stay doesn’t eliminate the possibility that the state will abandon its attempt to kill Glossip, who was sentenced to death in 1997, convicted of engineering the murder of Barry Van Treese, the owner of an Oklahoma 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.
At the request of Oklahoma legislators, an investigation conducted by the law firm Reed Smith released a full report last June, concluding that Glossip’s “2004 trial cannot be relied on to support a murder-for-hire conviction.” Reed Smith supplemented that report with five additional reports revealing more exculpatory evidence that had been withheld by the state, with the most recent fifth supplemental report released in March.
The mounting evidence of Glossip’s innocence, combined with the support of a group of state legislators, many of them Republicans and death penalty supporters, led by Rep. Kevin McDugle, who commissioned Reed Smith’s investigation, helped to convince Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond that Glossip may have been wrongly convicted. Last month, he announced “After thorough and serious deliberation, I have concluded that I cannot stand behind the murder conviction and death sentence of Richard Glossip” and asked the state Court of Criminal Appeals “to vacate Glossip’s conviction” and grant him a new trial.
He also asked that Glossip’s May 18 execution date be postponed until August 2024, which, had it been granted, would have been his ninth execution date since he was sentenced to death in 1998.
But to the surprise of many, the CCA denied the appeal on April 20, and one week later, the Oklahoma Pardon & Parole Board voted not to grant Glossip clemency in a 2-2 vote, with one abstention.
So the Supreme Court’s decision to grant a stay while it reviews Glossip’s petitions was particularly startling. His claims include two facts:
- Due process of law requires reversal because Mr. Glossip’s capital conviction is so infected with errors that the State no longer seeks to defend it, and
- At trial, the State knowingly permitted their main witness to make “material misstatements” without correcting them, as is required by law, and illegally suppressed evidence that might have exonerated Mr. Glossip when it had a constitutional obligation to turn it over.
Glossip’s lawyers stated that they don’t know how long it will take the Court to review the petitions.