ANALYSIS: Praying and working for “a miracle” – Sister Prejean and Death Penalty foes assert Glossip’s innocence

Sister Helen Prejean recalled a phone call she received last January from Richard E. Glossip, who had “put me down as someone he wanted to be present when he was executed.”

She accepted because, “I don’t believe in working quietly or going quietly into that night” even she believes a person scheduled to receive the ultimate sanction of death is guilty. However, “In this case, I believe he is innocent.”

Prejean, author of a book that became the motion picture “Dead Man Walking,” said Glossip had ineffective counsel at both of his trials.

Discussing a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Oklahoma’s execution protocols – and thus, clearing the way for Glossip’s scheduled September 16 date with death – the nun jabbed at Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for his defense of Oklahoma’s legal system in the case of Glossip v. Gross.

At a July 13 press conference hosted by the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP), Prejean said, “I’ve met Richard Glossip. He should not die.”

She sought to persuade Oklahomans that even advocates of capital punishment should not support its imposition in this particular case: “The death penalty that you say you want in Oklahoma is not the death penalty you actually have in Oklahoma.”

She continued, “I’ve come to know the people of Oklahoma. They are decent and good people. I’m out here asking for monetary support, among other things. Sometimes I hear people say ‘the lawyers are in it for the money.’ That is, that we are hustling.”

She reflected that might seem the case, but added, “I am here to tell you that the death penalty in Oklahoma is broken. All over the country wardens and others who once participated in the death penalty have moved against it.” 

Prejean and others made the case for Glossip’s exoneration or a permanent stay of execution, despite the High Court’s 5-4 ruling against him and other death row inmates. She encouraged reporters to study an investigative news report posted by “The Intercept” which
raises a plethora of questions about the police investigation that led to Glossip’s conviction. She said, “This investigative article documents the brokenness of the system.”

Continuing, Prejean said, “I feel sorry for juries. All they know is what they hear in the courtrooms.”

After the High Court’s decision to sustain Oklahoma’s protocols, including the use of the drug — as part of the mix of drugs to induce death, Prejean said, “There are only two or three avenues to stopping this execution. We need a state or federal court to say they will let what is called a ‘successor petition’ come in.”

Prejean encouraged those seeing videos of the press conference or reading news stories about it to visit the website, to contribute for the costs of researchers, investigators and attorneys to bolster the work of Colorado attorney Don Knight, who also addressed the gathering of reporters.

In a lengthy presentation and in response to questions from the crowd of journalists, Knight pointed to a variety of factors, elements going beyond “reasonable doubt” in the case, that he says have never been explored.

These include the comings and goings of other possible suspects at the hotel where Barry Van Treese was killed. The admitted killer, Justin Sneed, beat Van Treese to death with a baseball bat.

Sneed testified that Glossip paid him to carry out the killing for hire of Van Treese, owner of the Inn where both her and Glossip worked. In exchange for Sneed’s testimony, prosecutors did not seek his execution, but supported a life sentence without possibility of parole.

Sneed’s testimony and the contrasting treatment of him and Glossip are at the heart of the last-minute push to prevent Glossip’s execution, an effort Knight, an attorney from Littleton, Colorado, is now leading.

A video of the majority of his comments can be viewed at the OK-CADP website.

With Prejean and Knight were two Oklahoma political leaders.

In brief remarks before and after the session with the press, state Rep. George Young said he was less concerned about the Ten Commandments monument on state property than about living the Ten Commandments in the laws passed under the Capitol Dome.

Former state Sen. Connie Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, declared “the innocence of Richard Glossip” … She characterized the state government’s response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision was “disgusting and ironically predictable.” She restated opposition to an upcoming state question she described as a means to “constitutionalize the death penalty in Oklahoma.”

Johnson asserted Glossip is “an innocent man, like Jesus. “If the state proceeds to murder Richard Glossip the story of Jesus will be repeated.”

She passionately encouraged state officials to take a fresh look: “By not executing Richard Glossip we we not make an irreversible mistake.”

Countering contentions for Glossip’s innocence, Donna Van Treese, the widow of Barry Van Treese, told Rick Green of The Oklahoman, “After two murder trials, two sets of jurors, and 18 long years, we know who murdered Barry, and there is no doubt. They have not been able to find Glossip innocent or any evidence of his innocence. We stand firm as a family to see this until the end.” 

Progressive/liberal commentator Arnold Hamilton of The Oklahoma Observer, sat near this reporter during the press conference, which drew four television cameras and at least dozen print, online or broadcast journalists.

It was one of the largest non-gubernatorial press events at the seat of Oklahoma government in recent years.

In a column soon after, Hamilton reflected that no one wants “an innocent executed. After all, there are no do-overs if you later determine an individual was wrongly convicted.” 

Responding to questions, Sister Prejean said Richard Glossip “feels God is close to him.”

She believes, “God has sent these various lawyers, and they are working like you-know-what to prevent Richard’s death. He is an interesting man. He never asks for a lot.”

Prejean admitted, “We are going to need a miracle. The real miracle that is needed is in the heart of the people of our country.

“The way God works, the God that Jesus revealed, the God I believe in, is a personal and loving God.

It’s up to us to bring the love of God into the world.”