Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Don Knight and his team of attorneys argued, in their brief filed with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday (September 15), that a wide range of deficiencies exist in the case against Richard Glossip.
In 2007, the state appeals court, in a close 3-2 vote, had turned down a plea to reverse the conviction and sentence of Glossip. However, the same panel has now granted Glossip – who was scheduled to die at 3 p.m. Wednesday (September 16) for allegedly master-minding the 1997 murder of Barry Van Treese, owner of an Oklahoma City inn – until September 30 to present new information in the matter.
The state of Oklahoma had intended to carry out the execution despite a wave of petitions and appeals to Governor Mary Fallin to give Glossip's counsel 60 more days (through a “stay”) to pursue what many consider new evidence in the case.
The admitted killer in the case is Justin Sneed, who is serving a sentence of life without parole for beating Van Treese to death with a baseball bat.
Near the end of the 34-page brief, the attorneys arguing for Glossip's life said – concerning the second trial – that no verdict of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” can stand. They told the appeals court:
“One explanation for the guilty verdict is that the jury relied on the uncorroborated testimony of Sneed, and due to incompetence of trial counsel, was not educated as to the utter lack of evidence supporting Sneed’s version of the events or provided with any cogent theory of defense. … The record makes clear that the jury may have based a malice murder conviction on Mr. Glossip’s failure to act in the wake of Sneed’s statement that he had killed Mr. Van Treese.
“For these reasons, and in the absence of competent evidence to buttress the undoubtedly dubious testimony of the man who actually killed Barry Van Treese, the Court must set aside Appellant’s conviction and sentence.”
Among many issues raised in the brief, attorneys for Glossip challenged the competency of legal counsel in his two trials and various appeals through the state and federal legal systems.
They also said police officers investigating the crime 18 years ago planted the idea for Sneed to implicate Glossip as financier of the murder, as well as inconsistencies in testimony from the Medical Examiner's office, and what they considered inadequate supervision of proceedings by the trial judge.
The heart of the brief and anticipated further argumetns focus on violations of the Eighth and Sixth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and stresses that on judicial review judges may (based on U.S. Supreme Court precedent) reverse convictions in cases of false confessions because they are “an intolerable risk in capital cases.”
As part of a detailed review of events in the case, the attorneys provide an alternate narrative of the murder and its aftermath, focusing much energy on the role of investigating officers.
In a brief otherwise largely dedicated to defending Glossip's character, they provide this interpretation:
“In a videotaped interview conducted by detectives ... subsequent to his arrest, Sneed was told that the police knew the murder had not been his idea but rather Mr. Glossip’s. After first denying any involvement or knowledge about the murder, when he was told that Mr. Glossip was trying to 'hang it on him' and make him a scapegoat, Sneed changed his story and stated that Mr. Glossip had solicited him to kill Mr. Van Treese with a baseball bat for the cash Van Treese had in his car.
“Taken in the light most favorable to the State, the evidence adduced - other than the statements made by the actual killer- at best merely indicates that Mr. Glossip knew or should have known that Sneed had perpetrated a brutal murder upon Mr. Van Treese. The allegedly inconsistent statements Mr. Glossip made to various witnesses regarding when he had last seen Mr. Van Treese may be deemed indicative of Mr. Glossip’s confusion, mistake, or even conscious and deliberate misrepresentations. “However, even if Mr. Glossip purposely lied about when he had last seen Mr. Van Treese, those statements simply do not independently corroborate Sneed’s claim that Mr. Glossip was 'the mastermind' behind the crime. The statements at best indicate after the fact suspicion or knowledge of the crime, not premeditated involvement as a principal to murder.”
Elsewhere authors of the brief reason:
“The evidence in this case does in fact connect Mr. Glossip to the perpetrator of the crime. It may be characterized as raising suspicions, and might even arguably show that Mr. Glossip had, or should have reasonably had knowledge of the crime after the/act.
“However, absolutely nothing, other than the self-serving statements of Justin Sneed directly connect Appellant to the crime of murder as an aider and abettor.
As the foregoing argument and authority make clear, that is simply not enough to warrant affirmance of Mr. Glossip’s conviction and attendant sentence of death.”
In addition to Gov. Fallin's decisions to let the execution proceed, the state Pardon and Parole Board has turned down appeals on Glossip's behalf.
Mr. Knight and attorneys Mark Olive and Kathleen Lord were joined in the appeals brief by Mark Henricksen of Oklahoma City.
Knight was with Glossip on Wednesday, when news of the appeals court “stay” came to McAlester prison's death row. He described Glossip as exhilarated at the news, repeatedly expressing gratitude to his advocates and to the appeals court.