By Darla Shelden, City Sentinel Reporter —
OKLAHOMA CITY – Attorney Don Knight, representing Oklahoma death row prisoner Richard Glossip, has been requesting case documents from Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater with no response for years. On January 8, 2021, Knight sent an extremely detailed request for information to Mr. Prater that spans 15 well-documented pages. Once again, Mr. Prater has thus far failed to reply.
Glossip was convicted of the first-degree murder of hotel owner Barry Van Treese in 1997. Glossip was charged with planning the murder and hiring Justin Sneed to commit the crime. In Oklahoma, murder-for-hire is punishable by death.
The admitted killer, Justin Sneed, beat Van Treese to death with a baseball bat and avoided the death penalty by implicating Glossip.
Glossip is the only person on Oklahoma’s death row who had no prior criminal record. He has endured three scheduled executions, the last of which, on Sept. 30, 2015, was not postponed until 45 minutes after he was scheduled to die. The mistakes made by the state in that botched execution has led to a moratorium that has stretched into this year.
Knight was first introduced to the Glossip case by his longtime friend Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking and a noted anti-death penalty advocate and Glossip’s spiritual advisor.
Prejean received a call in January 2015 from Glossip who had “put me down as someone he wanted to be present when he was executed.” She accepted because she believes the death penalty is wrong even if she thinks a person is guilty. She said, “However, in this case, I believe he is innocent.”
During an event held at the Oklahoma State Capitol in 2015, Knight made a lengthy presentation. He pointed to a variety of factors that he said had never been explored and went beyond “reasonable doubt” in the case. He told reporters that he believes Glossip “is an innocent man.”
Knight asserted at the time that there was plenty of reasonable doubt about Glossip’s role, if any, in the killing. He strongly stressed that he believes Glossip did not cause or sanction the murder. Knight asserted, “This is a case that is not in the league to be a death penalty case.
“The trial came after a deeply flawed investigation. Other possible suspects were ignored or ruled out,” Knight stated.
Knight did not represent Glossip in his earlier trials. To aid in Glossip’s defense, Knight has repeatedly requested evidence from Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater. To no avail.
In this latest letter, Knight writes to Prater, “We write today not only to renew our previous requests for all discoverable evidence and documents in your files and the notes we specifically requested in our October letter, but also to make further specific requests for particular information to assist in our continuing work on Mr. Glossip’s innocence case.
“When I first began work on Mr. Glossip’s innocence case in the spring of 2015, I discussed with you my need for all documents in your file, I recall you told me that you had Mr. Glossip’s files brought into your office and that you would personally review them and decide whether you would provide me with the discovery in the case. I never learned if you reviewed the documents, but you did tell me shortly thereafter that you would not release any documents from your file to me. You did not explain why.”
In addition to renewing his request for all documents in general, Knight specifically details information that must be in Prater’s file but has never been turned over to any defense lawyer.
The letter specifically covers the following issues:
Documentation of all Polygraph Examinations
“While we are aware that Mr. Glossip was supposedly administered something alleged to be a polygraph in the days following the death of Barry Van Treese,” Knight writes in his letter, “no document we have ever seen supports such an examination—we have never seen any record of what biological indicators were used nor, crucially, what questions Mr. Glossip was asked nor what statements he made that were allegedly “untrue” or “deceptive.”
In an interview with this reporter, Knight stated, “The polygraph is not admissible in court, but it sure came out during the clemency hearing. They used that accusing Rich of failing a polygraph, then voted 5-0 to kill him.” After the hearing was over, Knight’s letter states that Richard’s then lawyer, Mark Henricksen, asked for the results and “…no materials were ever given to any lawyer.”
In the letter, Knight questions whether there really was a valid polygraph administered to Glossip. “If this is true…this allegation of a failed polygraph is not an indication of guilt as has been portrayed, but instead was merely a ruse, a common interrogation technique and scare tactic used by police in an attempt to persuade Rich to implicate himself in the murder of Barry Van Treese. It should be noted that Mr. Glossip never implicated himself and has maintained his innocence for more than 23 years.”
The Sinclair Videotape
At the time of this murder, a Sinclair gas station was located directly across from the hotel and was equipped with a security video camera. The letter states that a videotape from the camera at the Sinclair station was seized by the police and yet, despite repeated requests by various lawyers representing Glossip over the years, has never been turned over to the defense, nor does it appear to have been destroyed. Knight requests that a thorough search for the videotape be conducted and the evidence turned over for review.
In his letter to Prater, Knight writes, “The trial record makes clear that fingerprints were taken from various places in Room 102 and the vehicle belonging to Barry Van Treese—and that some of them belonged to an unidentified person, not Mr. Glossip, Sneed, or Van Treese. We request that you make available to us all reports and notes regarding all fingerprint evidence from any police or investigative source.”
In his interview, Knight stated, “There were fingerprints on a piece of broken glass,” Knight said. “Sneed’s fingerprints and somebody else’s fingerprints are on it. Whose fingerprint is that? The police said it did not belong to Richard.” And then he wonders, ”Why didn’t the police look at that? It shows what’s missing in this case, but it also shows how Richard’s lawyers didn’t do a very good job. Which has been a theme we’ve been talking about all the time.” But as to the police, Knight asks, “Why the rush to get Rich? Why did the police not do a thorough investigation and answer all these questions?”
The way the case was handled leads him to believe that the attitude of the police and prosecutors was, “We don’t care about polygraphs, or fingerprints. We don’t care about that money in Van Treese’s trunk or what’s in Sneed’s room. Just get Rich. Why?”
“This is all important stuff. That’s why I was so detailed in this letter,” Knight added.
Cash found in the trunk of Van Treese’s car and evidence seized from Sneed’s room.
In the letter, Knight notes that there was “more than $23,000 in cash discovered in envelopes in the trunk of Barry Van Treese’s car. The reports make clear that there were at least sixteen $100 bills that had blue dye on them, which is what happens when a dye pack placed in a bag of cash taken during a bank robbery explodes. Therefore, it is almost certain that some of the bills found in Barry Van Treese’s car were the ill-gotten goods of a bank robbery.” And yet nothing about this was ever turned over to any of Glossip’s defense lawyers.
Similarly, the police searched Sneed’s room at the motel. Knight noted in the interview that “this was a place Sneed was both before and after the robbery.” And yet no evidence seized from that room was ever given to any attorney for Glossip. In the letter to Prater, Knight asks for all of this evidence as well.
Document and Evidence Destruction
Finally in the letter to Prater, Knight notes that “All evidence that was collected that pertains to this case, or that of Mr. Sneed’s, whether it was used against Mr. Glossip at trial or not, shouldstill be available for review and use in any further potential court proceedings, including another trial if that were to be ordered. However, we know it is not.
According to a report from Janet Hogue-McNutt, the shower curtain and duct tape that were taken from inside the window of room 102 immediately after the homicide, along with a box of documents (the description of which is unknown), an envelope with note (unknown subject), glasses, wallet, knives, keys, one deposit book, and two receipt books were destroyed prior to Glossip’s second trial.”
In discovering that this critical evidence was destroyed by the police before the second trial, Knight was shocked to learn that Glossip’s lawyers at the time did not move for dismissal of the case. In his interview, Knight noted that “this evidence could have been key to Richard’s innocence, and yet it was simply destroyed by the state without explanation. Something is just not right about this. What were they trying to cover-up?” However, the fact that there is a record of its destruction, but not the destruction of any other evidence, leads Knight to believe that all of the evidence he now seeks, and that has never been seen by any defense lawyer, must still be available.
“[T]here exists evidence and documents that were never released to any defense attorney in this case, at trial, on appeal, in post-conviction, or clemency, of the polygraph examination to which Mr. Glossip was allegedly subjected, the Sinclair video, the fingerprint evidence we outline, evidence regarding the money with blue dye on it, and evidence from Sneed’s room.”
“Previous lawyers also failed to make timely demands from your office for the basic materials to which they were entitled to present an adequate defense and to meaningfully challenge the State’s case on behalf of Mr. Glossip. Due to these systemic failures, the adversarial process on which our system relies to arrive at the truth utterly broke down for Mr. Glossip.
“This case shows precisely how innocent people can and do end up on death row and are killed by the State. Ignoring this problem will undermine the public’s confidence in the ability of the justice system in Oklahoma to get things right”. Knight adds. “This confidence is especially important as Oklahoma is seeking to revive its problem-plagued death penalty.”
According to Knight, Glossip remains on death row and facing execution, quite possibly in 2021.
In his most recent letter (Jan. 8, 2021) to Prater, Knight wrote, “Throughout the summer of 2015, Mr. Glossip’s innocence team spoke with witnesses we were able to identify without the help of any documents from your files and, in our petition filed in September of that year, we made a compelling case for his innocence based upon this newly discovered evidence.
“By bringing these issues to the attention of all Oklahomans, we also want to acknowledge the suffering of the members of the Van Treese family. Our thorough investigation has clearly shown that Justin Sneed murdered Barry Van Treese for drug money and that Rich had nothing to do with it.
“Since 1997, Rich has also been forced to pay a terrible price for Sneed’s murderous meth addiction,” Knight stated. “Only by allowing Rich a fair opportunity to present his evidence can justice be obtained, both for the Van Treese family, and Rich Glossip. We hope the attention can now be turned to consideration of changes that will provide innocent people, like Rich, a truly fair opportunity to present their newly discovered evidence before it is too late.
“The information we request in this and the other letters we have sent to your office, to which you have not responded, is critical for the fate of Mr. Glossip and the Oklahoma system of criminal justice and capital punishment,” Knight wrote to Prater.
“Our investigation over the past five years has been the type of thorough investigation that should have been done by any competent defense attorney in a death penalty case.”
Last fall, Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, led a legislative interim study to discuss multiple concerns about the death penalty in Oklahoma. During the event, McDugle declared that one of the state’s most prominent death row inmates – Richard Glossip — is actually innocent. Knight testified at the hearing on some of the new information his team has uncovered.
The panel discussed major changes in the death penalty process – along lines suggested by the historic work of the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission.
House Bill 1551, recently authored by Rep. McDugle, would create a Criminal Investigative Unit (Darla, I think it is the Conviction Integrity Unit?)(CIU), that could review cases of “any inmate who has received a sentence of death” in Oklahoma. An independent investigator would be assigned by the Governor or the Pardon and Parole Board to examine the case.
“The two bills regarding discovery (HB 2220 and HB 2219) also authored by Rep. McDugle, would remedy the problem that now exists by rule in Oklahoma, that Prater does not have to give evidence up after the trial is over,” said Knight.
“If we cannot guarantee accuracy, “the executions should wait.” McDugle stated.
Knight stated, “That’s the important thing about the Conviction Integrity Unit – the McDugle bill that is pending. DNA is easy, it’s the low hanging fruit. This is not a DNA case. This case has a lot of nuances. There are witnesses that need to be heard from, the fingerprints need to be looked at. That needs to be done. The way it’s done before a trial. And trials don’t take 40 minutes.”
“That’s all that’s left for Rich in clemency is 40 minutes. In this Conviction Integrity Unit somebody would come in and say ‘Mr. Prater give me what you got, Mr. Knight, give me what you got.’ They’ll talk to the witnesses, they’ll take a look at what we’ve got and see what’s going on and then they produce a report. It takes time. It’s just not easy. I guess it’s easier just to kill somebody. This is complicated stuff, and it takes time, it sure does. These are all important questions.”
Knight told The City Sentinel, “My feeling is that these are critical issues that any lawyer in a case like this should have access to. Put the information we now seek from Prater’s files with the new evidence we presented at the legislative subcommittee hearing in October, which is only a small sample of the evidence we have that no one has ever seen, and it will show that if Rich Glossip is executed, Oklahoma will be killing an innocent man. “I’m thankful to Representatives McDugle and Humphrey for giving us the opportunity to use Rich’s case to highlight the serious problems that grow from defense attorneys who fail to do even the most basic work on behalf of their clients, and how the appeals are not designed to remedy these problems,” he continued.
In closing, Knight writes to Prater: “If you are confident in your evidence and it is unassailable, as it should be to support the execution of a citizen of Oklahoma, there is nothing to be gained from refusing to reveal it now.”
“I’m interested in getting this stuff and if they haven’t got it, then it’s time to start talking about letting Rich go,” Knight said.
To read Don Knight’s letter, click here.
This story first appeared online on Feb. 13, 2021.