(Update: On Thursday, April 20, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals denied Attorney General Gentner Drummond’s motion to vacate the conviction of Richard Glossip. The following story remains in its original form.)
Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond on Thursday filed a motion to vacate the first-degree murder conviction of Richard Glossip, a decision that could send the case back to district court for a third trial if the Court of Criminal Appeals grants Drummond’s motion.
Drummond’s decision coincided with the release of a report (embedded below) from the independent counsel he hired to examine concerns about how the state handled Glossip’s case. In a press release, Drummond said his decision is based on a careful consideration of the law and what he deemed is in the best interests of justice.
“After thorough and serious deliberation, I have concluded that I cannot stand behind the murder conviction and death sentence of Richard Glossip,” he said in the release. “This is not to say I believe he is innocent. However, it is critical that Oklahomans have absolute faith that the death penalty is administered fairly and with certainty. Considering everything I know about this case, I do not believe that justice is served by executing a man based on the testimony of a compromised witness.”
Richard Glossip case background
Glossip has been on death row for 25 years. In 1997, he was initially charged with accessory to murder following the murder of Barry Van Treese, who was Glossip’s boss at the time. Justin Sneed, one of Glossip’s coworkers, later confessed to beating Van Treese to death and received a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
Sneed testified that Glossip had paid him to murder Van Treese. The trio worked at the Best Budget Inn in OKC at the time of the killing.
Glossip was eventually charged with first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 1998. Sneed avoided the death penalty.
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals later overturned Glossip’s conviction for ineffective assistance of counsel, but Glossip was convicted and sentenced to death again at a 2004 retrial.
Glossip’s attorney, Don Knight, celebrated Drummond’s decision.
“The filing by AG Drummond states what we have long contended, that Justin Sneed, the state’s star witness against Mr. Glossip, is not credible,” Knight said. “Now, even the state has concluded that ‘Justin Sneed made material misstatements to the jury regarding his psychiatric treatment and the reasons for his lithium prescription’ and that the state ‘is compelled to correct these misstatements and permit the trier of fact the opportunity to weigh Sneed’s credibility with accurate information.'”
Drummond said in his press release that the state withheld a box of evidence from Glossip’s defense team during that trial. After taking office, Drummond provided access to the materials to Rex Duncan, a former legislator and Osage County district attorney whom Drummond hired as independent counsel to review the case. The withholding of those materials formed much of the basis for Drummond’s motion to vacate Glossip’s conviction and remand it to district court.
Reached Thursday, Drummond elaborated on his decision, saying that the psychiatric records of Sneed should have been made available to Glossip’s defense team.
“I have an ethical duty to see justice, and the burden on the sovereign is higher than on other things in other matters,” Drummond said. “And with what could be construed as the state’s failure to disclose that he was under the care of a psychiatrist and that he was prescribed lithium for bipolar disorder could be material to trier of fact. And if the defense had been made aware of that, I think they almost certainly would have tried to impair his integrity or his ability to recall facts with accuracy, such that they invited reasonable doubt of the jury and not get a conviction.”
Rep. Kevin McDugle (R-Broken Arrow) has been a vocal supporter of Glossip, professing his innocence at press conferences and handing out DVDs of a movie regarding the Glossip case.
“I’m ecstatic that we finally have an attorney general that is very tough on crime and at the same time very just,” McDugle said in a statement. “He has seen the flaws in this case, and finally is taking responsibility for the errors of the past. I am ecstatic for his decision.”