Correction: The original story misreported the agency responsible for setting the state’s execution schedule. The story has been corrected.
As Richard Glossip tries to dodge a 10th execution date, one state lawmaker is looking at the potential for a new moratorium on the death penalty over the convicted killer’s innocence claims.
Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, a former Marine and supporter of capital punishment, is hosting an interim study at the Oklahoma Capitol to lay out the evidence in Glossip’s case and consider restructuring the state’s capital punishment system.
“I think it’s gonna show what we’ve been saying all along, that we don’t have a mechanism right now in Oklahoma to make sure that an innocent person is not put to death,” McDugle said.
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled against Glossip, finding no grounds to vacate his sentence.
Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond doesn’t support a moratorium on executions, a spokesman said.
McDugle believes Glossip’s case shows the system is flawed.
McDugle said he wants to create a conviction integrity unit, which would review death penalty cases, but the idea has already failed twice in the Oklahoma Legislature. McDugle introduced a bill in 2021 to create the unit, which passed in the House of Representatives, but was never brought to a vote in the Senate. Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane proposed similar legislation in 2022, but the bill never got a hearing.
McDugle said he has no immediate plans to introduce new legislation.
Adam Luck, a former pardon and parole member who faced backlash for recommending clemency for death row prisoners, believes Oklahoma needs to implement a new moratorium.
“With the significant number of executions that were scheduled in 2021, I think people are ready to talk about it,” Luck said.
Luck believes a conviction integrity unit would ensure innocent people aren’t executed.
“There are no greater stakes than whether or not we should kill someone or let them live,” Luck said. “There is no greater decision our government can make than whether or not one of its citizens lives or dies.”
Glossip has maintained his innocence since his arrest for involvement in the 1997 slaying of Barry Van Treese. Glossip — the hotel manager — was accused of hiring his employee Justin Sneed to carry out the killing. Van Trees was found beaten to death inside room 102 at the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City.
Glossip has spent 26 years on death row, has had two trials, nine execution dates and three last meals.
Sneed was sentenced to life without parole and remains in a medium-security prison. Sneed’s testimony that Glossip hired him to kill Van Treese was vital evidence in the case and conviction. However, Glossip’s legal team alleged Sneed was coerced into his confession by law enforcement and suffered from mental illness and substance abuse.
Glossip has garnered support for his innocence from some state lawmakers and Drummond, who had his own investigators look into the case.
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board denied Glossip clemency in April after hearing from Van Treese’s family members, who described what it was like growing up without their husband, father and brother.
At the clemency hearing, Carrie Jarbo, a niece of the murder victim, told reporters even though Glossip didn’t beat her uncle to death, he has never shown remorse, unlike Sneed, who she said had been remorseful.
“And he has just continued to follow his lies throughout his life and that I believe — I don’t speak for everybody — but myself; that is why I feel like he is the right one to get the death penalty,” she said.
Glossip was scheduled for his 9th execution date in May, but the U.S. Supreme Court granted him a temporary stay of execution to review the two petitions pending from Glossip’s legal team.
Drummond has argued in legal briefs there was prosecutorial misconduct and withheld evidence and Glossip’s capital sentence should not stand.
Now the Van Treese family is waiting to hear whether the U.S. Supreme Court will consider Glossip’s case. The family has argued in a court filing that Glossip’s execution should be carried out without further delay.
Derek Van Treese, the victim’s son, wrote in a letter to the high court that the family has waited too long for justice.
“Two juries, 24 members of the public, have listened to the same evidence. They have found Richard Glossip to be guilty of his charges and have rendered the same sentencing,” he wrote. “Countless appeals, reviews, and hundreds of thousands of dollars and man hours have been spent. “The time is now. I urge you, I beg you, to allow justice to finally be served through the word of law and the will of the people. Enough is enough.”
But McDugle believes there is enough evidence of Glossip’s innocence to halt capital punishment in Oklahoma.
“Our court system is gonna have to get to the point that we admit mistakes when they’re made. And we take corrective action to fix those mistakes,” McDugle said.
To completely do away with the death penalty, Oklahoma voters would first have to overturn a successful 2016 ballot measure that enshrined the right to perform executions in the state constitution. The measure passed with 66% of the vote.
Oklahoma’s last death penalty moratorium lasted six years. Gov. Mary Fallin called for a pause on carrying out the death penalty after the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in 2014 and a mix-up that led to the state using the wrong drug in the lethal injection of Charles Warner in 2015.
Once the moratorium was lifted in October 2021, Oklahoma set an intense schedule to put 25 people to death in less than two years — nearly one execution a month.
The state has since since dialed back the pace of executions after former corrections employees sent Drummond a letter saying the schedule traumatized staff and left room for errors and possible botched executions.
Oklahoma was responsible for more than half the executions in the U.S. in 2022. The state was tied with Texas for the number of executions performed, according to a report released in December from the Death Penalty Information Center.
Oklahoma has executed 10 people in less than two years, with one more scheduled for 2023.
The interim study is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday in Room 4S.5 at the Oklahoma Capitol.
- Herman Lindsey, executive director of Witness to Innocence and Florida death row exoneree
- Adam Luck, senior advisor to Oklahoma Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty and former chairman of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board
- Demetrius Minor, national manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty
- Robert Dunham, director of the Death Penalty Policy Project
- Emma Rolls, first assistant Federal Public Defender and Capital Habeas Unit chief for the Western District of Oklahoma.
- Andy Lester, former U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Oklahoma and former Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission co-chairman.