The Reed Smith Report on the Glossip case: A brief summary and review
Oklahoma City – In mid-June of this year, a Texas law firm, at the request of a group of Oklahoma state legislators, undertook a comprehensive investigation into the controversial conviction of Richard Glossip for the 1997 murder of Barry Van Treese at a local inn.
The resulting examination is several hundred pages in length. However, a grasp of the essential findings can be found in several hundred words of summary at the beginning of the document.
Quoting from the summary: “The firm’s investigation revealed the state’s intentional destruction of evidence before trial and an inadequate police investigation. It also uncovered police contamination of the state’s star witness, Justin Sneed, the actual killer, who implicated Glossip only after the detectives mentioned Glossip’s name to Sneed six times during his interrogation. Likewise, the investigation uncovered additional evidence, never presented to the jury or to any court, that would likely have led to a different outcome in the case in the estimation of the Reed Smith team.”
At a June press conference, “Reed Smith partner Stan Perry announced the firm’s findings contained in its 343-page report, including appendices, at a joint press conference with members of the legislative ad hoc committee, including Rep. Kevin McDugle.”
Perry – the firm’s global director of pro bono and community service – served on the committee of lawyers that conducted the investigation. He commented, “Considering the facts we uncovered, and that there exists no physical forensic evidence or credible corroborating testimony linking Glossip to the crime, our conclusion is that no reasonable juror hearing the complete record would have convicted Richard Glossip of first-degree murder.”
The summary reported that “[T]he committee of Oklahoma state legislators granted the firm’s team the authority to seek assistance from professionals and other individuals outside the firm in completing the review. The findings of the report therefore extend well beyond the case’s judicial record and raise serious concerns as to the integrity of Glossip’s conviction. Reed Smith had no prior involvement in the case.”
Perry reported at the June press event held at the State Capitol, “For more than 20 years, concerns have been raised regarding the integrity of Richard Glossip’s conviction and death sentence. The findings of our independent review reveal a cascade of failures and breakdowns in procedure that should never occur, and most certainly never in capital punishment cases.”
The Reed Smith team consisted of 30 lawyers, a trio of investigators and two paralegals. All told they devoted “more than 12,000 documents totaling 146,168 pages, and contacted 72 witnesses, including 38 civilians and members of law enforcement.”
The report details many problems, concerns and flawed procedures. These included “the destruction of several pieces of key physical evidence and potentially exculpatory financial documents. This destruction of evidence at the direction of the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office occurred before Glossip’s retrial, and was described as ‘horrifying’ by one of the assistant district attorneys who prosecuted Glossip.”
The Reed Smith work “also revealed serious mishandling of evidence by the Oklahoma City Police Department, including losing a videotape from the night of the murder that could have provided critical information. Likewise, investigators returned evidence to the victim’s family even before murder charges against Glossip were filed.
“The investigation also concluded that the purported motive theories put forth by the state are untrue. Furthermore, the jury was never presented with critical evidence regarding the true character of the actual killer, who was mischaracterized by the state as a mere ‘puppet’ of Glossip.”
In 2017 a bi-partisan group of Oklahomans under the leadership of a former governor and a prominent attorney (one from each major political party) released a comprehensive critique of Oklahoma’s death penalty process.
Upon release of their work, this reporter observed that “Members of The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission worked dutifully for one year.”
Their report was strongly recommended to readers, citizens and all concerned Oklahomans.
The same recommendation is made here.
Among Reed Smith suggestions to improve death penalty implementation in Oklahoma:
* Evidence should not be destroyed in a capital murder case, and additional safeguards against that should be implemented.
* Before carrying out a death sentence, at least in cases where there are serious questions concerning the defendant’s guilt or innocence, an independent body should conduct an expeditious and thorough review of the conviction to ensure its integrity.
* Evidence should not be released before defense counsel can examine it, all evidence must be provided to counsel and investigators, and it must be carefully preserved for potential later use or testing.
* An expert in the field of interrogations should be engaged to evaluate police interrogation techniques and make and implement recommendations to safeguard against contamination of interrogations.
* The Oklahoma Indigent Defense System (OIDS) should not be the appellate lawyers for direct appeals/ineffective assistance of counsel claims if OIDS attorneys served as defense counsel in the trial.
* Specific criteria for service on the state’s Pardon and Parole Board should be implemented to prevent conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts; and when members of the board are recused, their votes should not count against the defendant, as is currently the case.
The prominent Oklahoma City firm of Crowe & Dunlevy assisted Reed Smith with “assistance on certain Oklahoma legal issues.”
The Reed Smith document stressed, “The findings and recommendations contained in the report are exclusively those of Reed Smith’s investigation team and do not represent the judgments, opinions or policies of the Ad Hoc Committee, the Oklahoma Legislature, or any other agency, law firm or organization.”
In the end, the Reed Smith report is the most significant critique of a particular death penalty conviction in Oklahoma history.
It rivals the history Death Penalty Review Commission document for an honorable purpose, careful and meticulous treatment of information on a matter of controversy, and respect for constitutional and legal values.