Oklahoma is set to put Richard Glossip to death on May 18, but it’s not clear whether the execution will actually happen.
This will be Glossip’s ninth execution date since he was first scheduled to die in 2015, attempts that have been halted numerous times due to various failures by state officials.
Now Glossip, who was convicted of paying for the 1997 murder of Oklahoma City motel owner Barry Van Treese, is relying on an unusual alliance for what might be his last shot at life. His attorneys have filed a request with the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of execution alongside an unlikely partner – Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond. Earlier this month, Drummond released the results of an independent investigation into Glossip’s conviction.
Drummond, a Republican, did not conclude in the report that Glossip was innocent, but believes he was undeserving of a death sentence.
“I have concluded that I cannot stand behind the murder conviction and death sentence of Richard Glossip,” Drummond said in a statement releasing the report. “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.”
Glossip was convicted with the help of the testimony of Justin Sneed. Sneed, who was 19 years old at the time of the murder, is serving life without parole for killing Van Treese. Sneed testified that Glossip paid him to kill Van Treese because Glossip believed Van Treese was going to fire him as manager of a motel property Van Treese owned.
The Van Treese family did not respond to requests for comment.
Drummond said Sneed, who avoided the death sentence in exchange for his testimony against Glossip, is a “compromised witness.”
Don Knight, Glossip’s attorney, said during a clemency hearing at the Pardon and Parole board earlier this month that alleged motive was untrue, something dreamed up by Sneed, who he called “a liar.”
Glossip has been about as close to execution as anyone on death row can get without actually being put to death. He had multiple stays of execution as Oklahoma grappled with its execution failures in the wake of the botched killing of Clayton Lockett in 2014. Glossip has eaten three last meals and. He came within hours of death during the state’s last attempt to kill him in 2015.
Glossip has become something of a cause célèbre in the last decade. The attempts to execute him in 2014 and 2015 drew massive crowds of supporters and journalists to the McAlester prison where death row prisoners are held. One reporter from the United Kingdom befriended Glossip while covering his case, eventually authoring a book – Surviving Execution: A Miscarriage of Justice and the Fight to End the Death Penalty.
Richard Branson, the Virgin Atlantic founder, has supported Glossip, even placing an advertisement in the Oklahoman newspaper in 2015, telling the state’s residents they were about to “”kill a man who may well be completely innocent.”
“This is about every person deserving a fair trial. Richard Glossip has not received this,” Branson’s letter said. A documentary series, “Killing Richard Glossip,” was released in 2017, drawing more attention to his case. Glossip has been married and divorced and married again in the ensuing years since the state last attempted to end his life. His first marriage ended in 2021, records show. Glossip was also in a relationship with another woman who he met in 2015, which also ended. Both have accused Glossip of threats and financial manipulation. Glossip married again last year.
Several state lawmakers have joined his cause, including Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, a “tough-on-crime” lawmaker who nonetheless has gone as far as to author three bills related to Glossip’s case. None of the proposed bills received a floor vote in the House of Representatives, and two were never even considered in their assigned committee. McDugle told Tulsa radio station KWGS he became interested in Glossip’s case after watching the “Killing Richard Glossip” documentary.
Despite the support, Glossip’s options are narrowing. Drummond’s request for a stay of execution was denied by the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals, and the Pardon and Parole Board denied Glossip’s clemency request by a 2-2 vote. Richard Smothermon, a Pardon and Parole Board member and former district attorney, recused himself from the hearing because his wife, Connie Smothermon, had served as a prosecutor in Glossip’s trial.
“The public support for Mr. Glossip is diverse, widespread, and growing, including at least 45 death penalty supporting Republicans in the Legislature who also reached the conclusion that there is too much doubt to execute Mr. Glossip,” Knight said after the clemency hearing. “It would be a travesty for Oklahoma to move forward with the execution of an innocent man.”
Van Treese’s surviving family members celebrated after Glossip was denied a clemency recommendation. Donna Van Treese, who was Barry Van Treese’s wife, said during the hearing they “have been through more than our share as a family and we have stood together, and this proves to me what a true family is.”
After the Court of Criminal Appeals denied Drummond’s request for a stay, he vowed in a statement to not “allow” Glossip to be put to death. But Drummond’s office has not said what options are at his disposal. Glossip’s attorneys have indicated they anticipate Drummond to join their stay request with the U.S. Supreme Court, but he has not yet done so.
Unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, Gov. Kevin Stitt will have the last say in Glossip’s case.
Last week, Gov. Kevin Stitt told The Frontier he would be monitoring Glossip’s case, but noted Glossip was convicted “by a jury of his peers” and has had “countless” appeals and opportunities for new trials declined by the courts. Stitt told the Tulsa World he had no plans to intercede on Glossip’s behalf.
“Unless the courts act, or there’s new evidence brought before the courts, we’re going to follow the law,” Stitt said in response to a question Friday.
Since the state ended a six-year moratorium on executions in 2021 Stitt has only granted one death row inmate clemency. Julius Jones’ sentence was commuted to life without parole just hours before he was scheduled to die in November 2021.
That kind of timeline is nothing new to Glossip, who once learned he was set to be spared while watching television and sitting in a holding cell awaiting transfer to the death chamber.
In their request for a stay of execution, Glossip’s attorneys argue that Oklahoma itself would suffer harm if their client is put to death.
“But in this case, the State will also suffer harm from its Department of Corrections executing a person whom the State has concluded should never have been convicted of murder, let alone sentenced to die, in the first place,” they wrote in the petition.
Glossip, they told the court, has “shortcomings and mistakes,” but “has done nothing to justify his execution.”