Supreme Court accepts death row appeal of Oklahoma inmate after state admits errors

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The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal in the high-profile case of Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Eugene Glossip after the state admitted that it made mistakes in the case and announced its support for the appeal.

The decision to hear the case came on Jan. 22 after the court previously acted on May 5, 2023, to stay Mr. Glossip’s execution, pending the outcome of the petitions he filed.

Mr. Glossip was convicted of murdering his employer, Barry Van Treese, in 1997 while employed as manager of a motel in Oklahoma City.

Motel handyman Justin Sneed, who was also convicted in the killing, was spared the death penalty and given life imprisonment without parole as part of a plea bargain in which he agreed to testify against his co-worker.

At the time of the murder, Mr. Sneed, then 19, was a methamphetamine addict whom Mr. Glossip had hired to do maintenance work. Mr. Sneed has since indicated that he wished to recant his testimony.

During a videotaped interrogation from 1997 posted on YouTube by a group called SaveRichardGlossip, Mr. Sneed told police that Mr. Glossip offered him $10,000 to kill Mr. Van Treese.

But Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond, a Republican who took office a year ago, discovered that prosecutors had withheld materials from the defense.

These items, collectively called “Box 8,” revealed that Mr. Sneed, the prosecution’s star witness, was permitted to present false testimony without disclosing that he had been prescribed lithium by a psychiatrist for a serious psychiatric condition, Mr. Drummond said in a statement.

He recommended that Mr. Glossip’s murder conviction be vacated and the case remanded back to the district court.

Despite that, the Court of Criminal Appeals for Oklahoma ruled against Mr. Glossip in April 2023, saying that following two trials, five appeals, and two reprieves, Mr. Glossip had run out of legal options.

“Glossip is neither entitled to post-conviction relief nor a stay of execution,” the state appeals court stated.

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board denied Mr. Glossip’s bid for clemency at a hearing later the same month.

But last summer, Mr. Gentner told the Supreme Court in a brief that the state had arrived at “the difficult decision to confess error and support vacating the conviction.”

“While the State previously opposed relief for Glossip, it has concluded, based on careful review of new information that recently came to light relating to prosecutorial misconduct at Glossip’s trial and cumulative error, that Glossip’s conviction and capital sentence cannot stand,” he wrote.

“Regrettably, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals [OCCA] refused to accept the State’s confession of error, instead reaching the extraordinary conclusion that Glossip’s execution must go forward notwithstanding the State’s determination that his conviction is unsustainable.

“That decision cannot be the final word in this case. The injustice of allowing a capital sentence to be carried out where the conviction was occasioned by the government’s own admitted failings would be nigh unfathomable.

“In all events, and deference aside, the OCCA’s decision is premised on mistakes of law that cannot be reconciled with this Court’s precedents and mistakes of fact that cannot be reconciled with the record.”

The petition for certiorari, or review, in Glossip v. Oklahoma was granted in an unsigned order on Jan. 22. No justices dissented. The court didn’t explain its decision.

At least four of the nine justices must vote for a petition for it to move to the oral arguments stage.

The court also granted the petitioner’s motion to proceed in forma pauperis. This means that the usual filing fees will be waived for an indigent litigant. When such a motion is granted, the court may appoint an attorney to represent the petitioner if he cannot afford one.

Justice Neil Gorsuch is recused from the case and didn’t take part in the consideration or decision of the petition or the motion.

Oral arguments haven’t yet been scheduled.

Both sides welcomed the Supreme Court’s new decision.

One of Mr. Glossip’s lawyers, Don Knight, said his client’s case “is unlike anything the country has ever seen.”

“The Oklahoma Attorney General’s concession of error is historically unprecedented, as is the outpouring of support from 62 Oklahoma legislators, including at least 45 death penalty-supporting Republican lawmakers,“ Mr. Knight said. ”Two independent investigations cast grave doubts on the reliability of Mr. Glossip’s conviction.”

John Mills, co-counsel for Mr. Glossip, noted that his client “has no criminal history, no history of misconduct during his entire time in prison, and has maintained his innocence throughout a quarter century wrongfully on death row. It is time—past time—for his nightmare to be over.”

Mr. Drummond said in a statement, “Public confidence in the death penalty requires the highest standard of reliability, so it is appropriate that the U.S. Supreme Court will review this case.

“As Oklahoma’s chief law officer, I will continue fighting to ensure justice is done in this case and every other.”

Michael Clements contributed to this article.

This article by Matthew Vadum appeared Jan. 22, 2024, in The Epoch Times.