Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – This week's decision from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals provoked joy from Richard E. Glossip's defenders and advocates trying to prevent his execution, and somewhat muted responses from those who have said he is guilty in the 1997 murder of hotel owner Barry Van Treese.
Former state Sen. Connie Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, sent a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations after the judicial panel gave Glossip's current lawyers until September 30 to seek a longer stay or reversal of his date with lethal injection.
Johnson, now chair of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said, "We are ecstatic and grateful about the court's willingness to review this case over the next 14 days in order to decide whether to hear new evidence. For the record, there is still nothing that prohibits the governor from issuing a 60-day stay of execution. We remain hopeful about the courts and the governor, that she too will find a reason to support the court in this temporary reprieve, in which to be evaluate Richard's case beyond any shadow of doubt. Accordingly, we will continue our advocacy with her and the public in order to educate."
Rev. Adam Leathers, the coalition's spokesperson, commented, “We at the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty are in celebration over the two week stay issued by the criminal court of appeals. We commend the court for putting justice before politics. We hope and pray that the new evidence in the case will ensure that true justice is done and we as a state do not end up with more blood on our hands.”
Oklahoma's top lawyer, Attorney General Scott Pruitt, said the court's ruling would delay but not alter the outcome:
“The family of Barry Van Treese has waited 18 agonizing years for justice to be realized for his brutal death. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals indicated it needs more time to review the filings. I’m confident that the Court of Criminal Appeals, after reviewing the filings, will conclude there is nothing worthy which would lead the court to overturn a verdict reached by two juries who both found Glossip guilty and sentenced him to death for Barry Van Treese’s murder.”
Gov. Mary Fallin, who rebuffed requests to give Glossip's legal team 60 days, in the form of a stay of execution, said in her prepared statement:
“As I have repeatedly said, court is the proper place for Richard Glossip and his legal team to argue the merits of his case. My office will respect whatever decision the court makes, as we have throughout this process.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to the Van Treese family who has suffered greatly during this long ordeal.”
The court's decision to give more time to the lawyers came about 19 hours after Colorado attorney Don Knight and his associates joined with Oklahoma City attorney Mark Henricksen to file a 34-page legal brief to the appeals court. It raised enough questions, in the court's view, to merit further deliberation.
Knight and Sister Helen Prejean. Glossip's spiritual advisor, were with him when news of the temporary stay came at noon on Wednesday (September 16). They described Glossip as exhilarated over the news, and grateful to his advocates and the legal system for the decision.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater had initially characterized Knight's arguments as raising no new issues, but moderated his criticisms later in the week.
“The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals did today, what elected officials have refused to do. We stand with the many Oklahomans and individuals around the world in expressing our gratitude to the court. For today, at least, the state of Oklahoma has avoided the execution of a man not guilty of any capital offense,” said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the Oklahoma affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Veteran Oklahoma journalist M. Scott Carter, now working for the ACLU, distributed Kiesel's comments.
Mark Hammons, chairman of the state Democratic Party said this past week: "The death penalty is the most severe component of our criminal justice system. When there is substantial doubt about the guilt of a person, execution cannot be appropriate or our citizens will lose confidence that there is actually 'justice' in the system. …
"While reasonable people can debate the merits of their position for or against the death penalty, when we have a case that we cannot guarantee, beyond a reasonable doubt, a person's guilt we must take into consideration the brevity of the decisions we make. We are all human and we want to do the right thing for our fellow man.”
Knight and Kathleen Lord, one of the three attorneys working pro bono to get the stay, along with Mark Olive, were with Glossip when the stay was issued.
As reported by KOKH Fox 25's Phil Cross, “We said ‘There’s been a stay,’ and he [Glossip] became ecstatic he said “Yes” and pounded on the window,” Knight told reporters outside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, “He was just so happy, so he said thank you, thank you, thank you so many times to everybody really.”
Cross went on to report: “We just found out after the filing that there was more evidence that was destroyed by the police department,” Lord said. “One item is ‘a white box with papers’ that’s all we know and they destroyed it in 1999, you know before he had even had an appeal.”
Knight continued, “This is not some delaying tactic; this is not some PR campaign; we’ve been doing the really hard work that you have to do in order to get this case done.”