Death Penalty foes schedule Capitol press conference for Monday morning

OKLAHOMA CITY – Opponents of the ultimate sanction have slated a press conference on Monday morning (July 13) to present their case against execution of Richard Glossip, now on death row at the state prison in McAlester.

Participants will include Don Knight, an attorney who believes Glossip was wrongly convicted of procuring murder.

A press release announcing the Monday morning meeting with reporters detailed that Knight wants help from the public as he makes the case for Glossip’s exoneration:

“ There were many people at the Best Budget Inn during the early morning hours of January 7, 1997 who may have knowledge of the crime, or who may have interacted with individuals who were there at the time. Mr. Knight will be asking these, and other, members of the public to come forward and speak the truth to prevent another tragedy from occurring.”

House Democratic staff summarized the focus of Monday’s event in a press release: “A team of lawyers has volunteered to work on behalf of Mr. Richard Glossip because he has always maintained his innocence and the evidence against him is paper thin. Knight will discuss evidence the team is attempting to uncover that would exonerate Richard Glossip, as no one wants an innocent man to be executed.”

Since the start, Glossip has asserted his innocence in the murder of Barry Van Treese, owner of the hotel where he was manager.

The admitted killer is Justin Sneed, who beat Van Treese to death with a baseball bat. Sneed said Glossip was afraid of losing his job at the Inn, and promised to pay him $10,000 to kill their boss. Sneed testified against Glossip, and received a life sentence without parole.

Former state Sen. Connie Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, serves as chair of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP), the group sponsoring Monday’s press conference, slated for 10 a.m. in Room 432B, in the broadcast media press room.

In a statement to The City Sentinel concerning capital punishment and the scheduled execution, Johnson said:

“Once again, Oklahoma has set a date, September 16, to kill for its citizens as punishment for the killing of one of its citizens. It’s ironic that this particular choice of punishment only applies to citizens and not law enforcement as Oklahoma once again notoriously leads the nation – this time in the number of deaths at the hands of law enforcement – – but that’s a conversation for another article. 

“The difference this time is that this particular citizen who is sentenced to die appears to be innocent. 

“The date-setting — coming on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision upholding Oklahoma’s lethal injection drug’s constitutionality — while expected, is no less disappointing. 

“Our advocacy opportunity in the next eight weeks is to educate people, in order to support Mr. Glossip’s legal team in shedding new light on information that proves his innocence; information that the criminal justice system has refused to allow to be presented. 

“There is so much wrong with this case, the system, and the penalty. If it’s wrong to kill, it’s always wrong to kill.”

Sister Helen Prejean, a leading foe of the death penalty, will return to Oklahoma for Monday’s event. Also scheduled to attend and participate are Sen. Johnson, state Rep. George Young, D-Oklahoma City, and OK-CADP spokesperson Rev. Adam Leathers.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Oklahoma’s death penalty protocols (including use of the drug midazolam), were constitutional. That allowed the state to move forward with three executions, with Glossip slated to be the first.

At the time, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt commented, “ This marks the eighth time a court has reviewed and upheld as constitutional the lethal injection protocol used by Oklahoma. The Court’s ruling preserves the ability of the Department of Corrections to proceed with carrying out the punishment of death. The state appreciates the justices’ thoughtful consideration of these important issues.”

Pruitt said, “The families in these three cases have waited a combined 48 years for justice. Now that the legal issues have been settled, the state can proceed with ensuring that justice is served for the victims of these horrible and tragic crimes.”

As Johnson hinted, the affirmation of capital punishment — rebuffing a case brought by death row inmates — was expected in the case of Glossip v. Gross.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion, with these essential conclusions: “ First, the prisoners failed to identify a known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain, a requirement of all Eighth Amendment method-of-execution claims. … Second, the District Court did not commit clear error when it found that the prisoners failed to establish that Oklahoma’s use of a massive dose of midazolam in its execution protocol entails a substantial risk of severe pain.” 

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the primary dissent, in which three of her colleagues joined. She argued lawyers “ presented ample evidence showing that the State’s planned use of this drug poses substantial, constitutionally intolerable risks.” 

She and other justices pointed, among past precedents, to the U.S. Constitution’s ban on “cruel and unusual” punishment to support their dissent.

Going a step further, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer wrote (with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joining) that the Court should move toward ending capital punishment.  

In support of his reasoning, Breyer observed, “ Last year, in 2014, six death row inmates were exonerated based on actual innocence.

All had been imprisoned for more than 30 years.”