by Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – The state of Oklahoma almost executed Richard E. Glossip, whom many believe was not guilty of the crime for which he was sentenced to death.
In defense of his near-execution, some say he was “guilty” of being an accessory. Available information (some evidence was destroyed long before his legal appeals had been exhausted) hints he was, at worst, an accessory after-the-fact.
That crime, if he committed it, that does not merit death.
Advocates of Glossip’s death insist he is a liar. Yet, the government has agreed from the start that no forensic evidence exists (or existed) connecting Glossip to the brutal murder of Barry Van Treese in 1999. The sole testimony linking Glossip to the Oklahoma City inn-keeper’s killing was and is the word of Justin Sneed.
(For reasons beyond the purely legal concerning the use of Sneed’s testimony to implicate Glossip, see below.)
Sneed, in 1997 a heavy user of methamphetamine and a dedicated liar according to several witnesses, took a baseball bat and beat in Van Treese’s head.
In God’s word, capital punishment is clearly anticipated for a variety of crimes. The Bible also provides this caution: “Only on the testimony of two or three witnesses shall a person be put to death; no one shall be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.” (Deuteronomy 17:6, NAB)
The U.S. Constitution allows, but does not require, states to use a penalty of death.
At this time, Oklahoma should join those carefully considering the future of this mechanism for justice.
Advocates of Glossip’s execution insist he is a liar. And, they contend, also liars are new witnesses who say they heard Sneed brag behind prison walls that he had killed a man and put it off on someone else.
Compelling doubts about Sneed’s veracity lead me to oppose execution of Richard Glossip.
Perhaps there is in this case a whole circle of liars. In such a case, the job of those who represent us in matters of justice is to weigh shades of truth within the lies. In any case, in our system the sin of lying is not generally treated as a crime worthy of death.
The evidence against Glossip, despite the results of two jury trials (in which, of course, jurors and even prosecutors could not have known the testimony of the new witnesses against Sneed) is no longer persuasive. New information is new information.
Jurors did not know, nor could they have known, the scholarly analysis of specialists concerning meth users like the actual killer. The same benefit of doubt may extend to prosecutors, who could not have known in the late 1990s about data-based evidence on the proclivities of people like Sneed.
To sum up, meth users lie when trying to tell the truth, and tell the truth when trying to lie. That may be why Sneed has offered at least eight different versions of Van Treese’s death.
Nothing Sneed says about this matter can be taken at face value. Hints Sneed has given that he lied about Glossip should introduce more doubt, not less.
Reasoning, morality and legality do not even reach to questions of fiscal prudence. News9 commentator Kelly Ogle last week outlined such costs in capital cases.
The government of my state must not impose death on Richard E. Glossip. To kill him would defy the common meaning of the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In other pending executions, there is no compelling evidence for actual innocence.
Nonetheless, our state’s protocols for execution have been honored in the breach, at best.
Dale Baich, a lawyer whose work has documented problems with the state’s lethal injection protocol implementation, commented last week, “The execution logs for Charles Warner say that he was administered potassium chloride, but now the State says potassium acetate was used. We will explore this in detail through the discovery process in the federal litigation.”
No wonder Baich has concludes the government cannot be trusted “to get it right or to tell the truth.”
Ziva Branstetter of the independent news website, “The Frontier,” formerly worked at The Tulsa World, where she was known for brilliant data-driven reporting. Last week, the state government responded to a massive open records request she submitted after the execution of Clayton Lockett — widely described as “botched” – 17 months ago.
The “botched” phrase came from the apparent torture Lockett – convicted of burying a woman alive – went through. A process designed to last less than 20 minutes took 43. Ziva – one of of a dozen witnesses from the news media at that event — later described as “a genius lede” (story beginning) the words of Slate magazine, “the state of Oklahoma had accidentally killed a man in the middle of trying to execute him that night.”
In Warner’s execution, Oklahoma, in now-admitted violation of death protocols, became the first state to use potassium acetate to carry out a capital punishment.
At that execution in January, Warner – convicted of raping and killing an 11-month old baby – took 18 minutes to die. A reporter for KFOR (Channel 4, the local NBC affiliate) said Warner did not appear to be in pain, yet as the drugs entered his body he said distinctly, “it feels like acid,” and “my body is on fire.”
Lethal injections have been controversial from the start. The father of lethal injection protocols, Dr. Jay Chapman always believed the process would be humane, even simple. The New York Times reported he said in 2007, “It never occurred to me when we set this up that we’d have complete idiots administering the drugs.”
Those words are unsettling, coming from the person who aimed to assure a comparatively humane way to carry out the ultimate sanction.
To sum up, last month the government of my home state came within a half-hour – and 85 minutes late, to boot – of executing a man who did not kill anyone, and whose culpability in an alleged murder-for-hire scheme is in doubt.
The state did execute a baby-killer in January, but in a manner violating its own standards for use of proper lethal drugs.
And, our government executed someone in 2014, after administering the killing meds in a way that inflicted great pain – contrary to the stated purpose of this method in the first place.
The state is investigating, for which we should all be thankful.
A Harvard Law professor wants the U.S. Department of Justice to jump in.
Oklahomans anxiously await results of the in-state looks at all of this. We want to believe we don’t need the Feds to focus our minds and get to the bottom of things.
Just in case state pride leads some to oppose in-state investigations, no one can seriously contend there is anything other than a web of doubt over the entire process of executions here.
Sooner, rather than later, the best way for our state leadership to become pro-active in this matter is to get ahead of the turmoil.
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) describes a “moratorium” as “a temporary prohibition of an activity.”
Oklahoma needs a death penalty moratorium – now and for a long time to come.