By Patrick B. McGuigan, editor
OKLAHOMA CITY – With less than two weeks until the state scheduled execution of Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip, the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP) hosted its third press conference with Sister Helen Prejean at the Oklahoma State Capitol on Sept. 3.
Prejean, Glossip’s spiritual advisor and an avid anti-death penalty activist, has worked the past several months to bring attention to the Glossip case.
“It’s the people of Oklahoma that have to appeal to Gov Fallin now,” Prejean said.
On either side of the pressroom podium were five boxes bearing Glossip’s picture representing thousands of signatures that have been gathered on the MoveOn.org and Change.org petition sites for Glossip.
Prejean opened by saying “We are going to bring these petitions that have already reached 270,000 people around the world who are asking the State of Oklahoma, especially its executive person – the Governor – to please look carefully at this case and grant additional time before you execute Richard Glossip.”
Prejean continued. “Oklahoma has been witness to botched executions. It has sent innocent people to death row – 10 that we know of for sure so far, and with the execution of Richard Glossip drawing near, it is very likely that Oklahoma will add the death of an innocent man to this record of mistakes.”
A recent whirlwind of stories in the media have raised national and even global attention to the Glossip case. Prejean, along with her friend and ally, Oscar winning actress Susan Sarandon, have made numerous appearances on television, from Legal View on CNN, to the Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC and HBO’s Real time with Bill Maher.
Ms. Sarandon portrayed Prejean in the movie Dead Man Walking, based on a book authored by the nun from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Now, in a similar role, Sarandon is speaking out in support of Richard Glossip – a man she believes is innocent.
Seen by millions of viewers, Prejean, Sarandon, Glossip legal team member Don Knight, and Illinois exoneree Nathson “Nate” Fields appeared on a special one-hour episode of The Dr. Phil Show on Aug. 31.
Phil McGraw, a native of Vinita, Oklahoma, took a special interest in the case, doing several promos for the show, which aired early interrupting the schedule of summer reruns due to the nearing execution date of September 16.
During the show, Dr. Phil urged viewers to call Gov. Mary Fallin to ask for a 60 day stay of execution so that new lawyers, working pro bono, could present evidence that was never heard by the 24 jurors who (in two separate trials) sentenced Glossip to death.
State Capital phone lines have been flooded in recent weeks, as voice mail boxes were filled to capacity with pleas in support of Glossip’s innocence.
“With the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent refusal to look at the constitutionality of the death penalty, it falls on the people of Oklahoma to take a deeper look, not only into Glossip’s case, which is greatly flawed with loopholes, but at the faults of our system of capitol punishment,” Prejean said.
Although Gov. Fallin has stated, as Prejean said, that Glossip has had his day in court, his defenders have fed doubts about whether or not that day was fair. “Across the nation, here have been 155 exonerations from death row in 26 different States, all of whom had their ‘day in court’ – some of them numerous times. Oklahoma has had 10 of those,” Prejean noted
To involve the public, Sarandon and Prejean started a MoveOn.org petition, which has thus far been signed by over 223,000 people worldwide. The Petition pleads with Gov. Fallin to use her special executive power to grant Glossip a stay of execution.
Another petition, started on Change.org, by California resident Crystal Martinez, has now received over 50,000 signatures.
Richard Glossip was arrested in 1997 in connection with the killing of Barry Van Treese. Justin Sneed confessed to the murder. Sneed ultimately testified Glossip paid him to commit the murder. Over the course of two trials and in varied interrogations, Sneed offered several differing accounts of what happened. Sneed struck a plea deal and received a sentence of life in prison without parole, while Glossip was sentenced to death.
Prejean stated that there are pockets of areas across the country that go after the death penalty. Prejean criticized former Oklahoma County prosecutor Bob Macy, now deceased, for seeking the ultimate sanction in what was called a “paid for hire” killing.
“The outcry of the people is fair, people have a sense of justice – and they say ‘well he’s had these trials,’ but then they say, you mean a man is going to his death on the word of a 19 year old kid, who was under threat of the death penalty himself, who saw a lawyer one time. He delivered to them what they needed to save his own life. There’s not a fingerprint of Richard Glossip’s on the money, there’s no forensic evidence to corroborate what Sneed said. Solely on Sneed’s testimony Richard Glossip is going to his death,” Prejean said.
Prejean renewed her pleas for Gov Fallin directly to review Glossip’s case.
“Governor’s have been given additional powers for exactly cases like this where there’s a preponderance of residual doubt. When there is a question, even though it’s been through the courts, all of these people are concerned,” she said, laying her hand on the petition boxes.
“It’s the people of Oklahoma…it’s going to be your voices to your Governor saying, ‘It’s been 18 years, can we just hold off 60 more days and will you initiate an additional hearing’”.
Two of Gov. Fallin’s staff, Alex Weintz, Director of Communications and Press Secretary Michael McNutt attended Sister Helen’s press conference – a first according to OK-CADP organizers.
“Even though it’s been through the court system, all these questions are enough that people are concerned,” Prejean said. “The Supreme Court has said death is different. You have to make sure it is beyond the shadow of the doubt.”
Prejean introduced Glossip’s two daughters, Christina and Ericka Glossip Hodge, who live in Maryland. They were each invited to say a few words on their father’s behalf.
“He is an innocent man,” Christina said, “I hope and pray that somebody reaches Gov. Fallin’s heart and that she does grant him a stay because it’s our last chance.”
The younger of the two daughters, Ericka said, “I’m hoping that we can get this overturned,” after which she became overcome with emotion, and left the room.
Prejean said, “The way democracy works is ‘we the people’ – it’s really important in the court of pubic opinion for the people to call for justice.”
Rev. Dr. William Tabbernee, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, spoke at the event saying, “Right now the eyes of the world are on Oklahoma. As executive director of OCC, I receive almost daily phone calls and e-mails from Europe, Australia, and other overseas countries.
“People want to know what on earth we think we are doing–not only still executing people but, in this instance, putting to death someone who appears to be innocent. People from around the world are astounded that Oklahoma (with its high percentage of Christian population) still carries out capital punishment.”
Tabbernee said that a meeting had recently taken place between some high level religious leaders and Gov Fallin regarding the Glossip case.
Gwen Fields, Executive Director of The Advocacy Council spoke about the 2013 Oklahoma Justice Commission study on wrongful conviction, noting that critics who have studied the process estimate that nationwide there have already been 1,600 exonerations of individuals who had been sentenced to death. That number of death row exonerations, she said, means, “the fact is we get it wrong.
OK-CADP spokesperson Adam Leathers said, “I am not an attorney, but as Ordained Clergy, I’d like to think I know a little about scripture and about my savior, Jesus Christ. Deuteronomy 17:6 says, ‘On the testimony of two or three witnesses a murderer is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.
“There is a similar version of that in the Book of Numbers as well. Justin Sneed … literally had his life to gain by testifying that Richard Glossip paid him to commit a disgusting murder.” Leathers added.
OK-CADP chair Connie Johnson said, “This is in our hands now. We are asking that this word will go out to the governor and that her heart will be moved by mercy and justice and she will grant a stay of execution.”
OK-CADP has organized opposition to capital punishment in general, and has brought worldwide attention to the particulars of Glossip’s case.
After the September 3 press conference, Prejean, accompanied by members of Glossip’s family, OK-CADP members, other supporters and the media, delivered 10 boxes representing the petition signatures to Gov. Fallin’s office.
Fallin’s Deputy General Counsel Jennifer Chance received from Prejean a stack of signatures and a thumb drive that contained the over 20,500 pages of names from all 50 states and 60 countries, plus Puerto Rico, Guam, Virgin Islands, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands.
Following the presentation, in a closed door meeting for the press only, a statement was made by Weintz on behalf of Gov. Fallin, saying that the execution will go forward.
“He was given multiple appeals in state and federal court, including the Supreme Court of the United States,” Wentz said. “He made his argument before the Pardon and Parole Board. Those were the arguments we heard today from Sister Prejean and others.”
The documents represent the eight different accounts offered by Justin Sneed taken directly from transcripts of interviews with the police, official court records of his testimonies in the two trials, and statements that he had made to family members since the date of his arrest.
“These stories highlight exactly how the justice system has failed Richard Glossip, how innocent people can be put to death, and why no one should ever be put to death based on the word of just one person,” Knight said.
During Sept. 3 press event, Prejean said, “I believe in the hearts of the people of Oklahoma, people of faith and even people who have never stepped inside a church – we know about human rights and we know about justice and it’s going to be up to us to raise our voices.”
Knight and his colleagues have been accumulating a storehouse of information as they make the case that Glossip is innocent. Their work has created a web of doubt about the conviction and scheduled execution.
Anyone with any information is encouraged to contact attorney Don Knight at [email protected] or 303-797-1645.