By Gina Smith and Jim Kelly
aNewDomain — As the State of Oklahoma was finishing up preparations to put Richard Glossip to death today, stunning news arrived. Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin, who’d said she wouldn’t waver in her certainty that Glossip should indeed get the death penalty, wavered.
Minutes before Glossip suffered the highest penalty in the land, Fallin issued a statement saying she’d grant the death row inmate a 37-day stay so the state could address “last minute questions (that were) raised today about Oklahoma’s execution protocol and the chemicals used for lethal injection.”
“After consulting with the attorney general and the Department of Corrections,” she said in the statement, “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.”
It was an 11th hour save for Glossip, whose growing list of supporters now includes Pope Francis, Sister Helen Prejean, Virgin founder Richard Branson, actress Susan Sarandon and Senator Tom Coburn, all of whom have spoken up on behalf of letting Glossip’s side introduce new evidence that could well exonerate him.
Glossip was convicted 18 year ago for the murder of Oklahoma City hotel owner Barry Van Treese. Thoughout he has maintained his innocence.
In fact, the jailhouse snitch largely responsible for sending Glossip to death row admitted in Glossip’s trial that he, not Glossip, had actually killed Van Treese.
But after making a deal with authorities, Justin Sneed testified that it was Glossip who’d paid him to do it.
Sneed accepted a plea deal in which he pled guilty in return for a life without parole sentence he is serving now. Glossip refused that deal, lawyers say, because he said he was innocent and would not enter that guilty plea.
Two weeks ago, Glossip was minutes away from lethal injection when an Oklahoma appellate court granted a two-week stay so it could weigh whether a new evidentiary hearing was called for based on new evidence. A man who’d once known Sneed came forward to say that Sneed had told him he’d framed Glossip, defense attorneys now claim. The appellate court has since denied the request for a new hearing on the basis of such new evidence.
Another factor pointing to reasonable doubt about Glossip’s guilt had to do with the lead forensic examiner on this case. That would be Joyce Gilchrist, who has long since been discredited by Innocence Project lawyers and dozens of academics claiming that Gilchrist sent at least 10 innocent men to death row over the years due to faulty or tampered-with evidence. One of the death row convicts, David Johns Bryson, sued her and the late DA Robert Macy (the same DA who prosecuted Glossip’s case) after Bryson spent 17 years in jail for a 1982 murder that DNA evidence now shows he didn’t commit. He won a judgment of more than $16 million U.S., though he never was paid.
Gilchrist died this summer at the age of 67. If the AG has his way, Glossip will join her before too long. Glossip is 52.
In an interview with The Guardian, Glossip maintained his innocence in a public forum, saying it took all this for him to realize just how flawed the U.S. criminal justice system really is.
When I was out there, I didn’t understand that was happening – out of sight, out of mind. But when it happens to you, it wakes you up,” Glossip told the Guardian. “I think execution, period, is a mistake. I don’t think there’s a humane way of doing it … I don’t want to be a martyr, and I don’t want to die. Believe me, I want to live, but if my death would stop anybody else from having to go through what I went through for 18 years, I’d be more than happy to die for them. I just want everyone to know the truth. If this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.”
Oklahoma governor Fallin, despite the Pope’s objections and those of so many other supporters who want to give Glossip’s side the chance to try to exonerate him with new evidence, has so far refused all entreaties to save Glossip.
Though he’d never been convicted of a crime before, Glossip was convicted twice in two trials, Fallin has said.
But the 37-day stay of execution Fallin granted Glossip today in the 11th hour may in fact give his defense attorneys a chance to fight anew for a new evidentiary hearing. But the point of it, said the governor, is merely to review lethal injection standards.
Reportedly, Fallin did say she wanted to inquire whether chemical potassium acetate could be used in an execution. That would be in place of potassium chloride, the heart-stopping ingredient in Oklahoma’s death cocktail. Some reporters wondered if officials perhaps had received the wrong chemical — that is, potassium acetate — for Glossip’s lethal injection. But the director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Robert Patton, refused to answer any questions.
With Jim Kelly for aNewDomain, I’m Gina Smith reporting from Oklahoma.
Images courtesy RichardGlossip.com