Richard Glossip and the gross mishandling of justice in Oklahoma

Karin Stafford, of Oklahoma City, joins a crowd of peaceful protestors who gathered in front of the Governor's Mansion in Oklahoma City, Okla., on Wednesday, Sep. 30, 2015, to keep a silent vigil as the scheduled time drew near for the execution of convicted killer Richard Glossip, currently detained at the state penitentiary in McAlester. (Jim Beckel /The Oklahoman via AP)

This past Wednesday, Richard Glossip was supposed to die. Two weeks before last Wednesday, he was supposed to die, too. In the second case, he was “within hours from the gurney” before the state agreed at the last minute to consider new witness testimony. In the former, it had nothing to do with his innocence, but rather a discrepancy as to which drugs would be used in the lethal injection cocktail. 

To Glossip, however, the drug debacle all seems like a moot point. Since his conviction as a conspirator of murder in 1998, he has firmly maintained his innocence, and yet, after 17 years of appeals, he still cannot convince the courts. Even the Supreme Court rejected a writ of certiorari petitioning for a stay of execution. From a bureaucratic standpoint, I can somewhat see where they’re coming from. This case has been reviewed and dismissed and appealed umpteen times, and it probably seems pointless for them to elongate what they view as a determined case. To me, and to the hundreds of thousands of people petitioning, this is another bastardization of justice. 

In 1997, Glossip worked as the manager of the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City. He’d been working there for two years after being hired by Barry Van Treese, who owned this and another motel in Tulsa. This was a typical seedy, POS motel off the highway where prostitutes and drug addicts congregated. One night in January, Justin Sneed, a 19-year old maintenance man for the hotel, murdered Van Treese with repeated blows from a baseball bat. 

There’s no disagreement that Sneed murdered Van Treese; he confessed and his fingerprints were scattered throughout the room of the murder, along with ample blood. However, Sneed claimed Glossip coerced him into committing the crime for Van Treese’s money and job security. The initial trial’s evidence rested solely on Sneed’s testimony and that Glossip, to whom Sneed divulged he killed Van Treese (albeit with questionable candor), waited a suspiciously long amount of time to mention his knowledge to investigators. This was attributed to advice from his girlfriend to wait “until they knew for sure” Van Treese was dead. Additionally, Glossip and Sneed had $2,000 each on their persons when first booked. 

There were other more insidious factors at play, too. Recent statements from Johnny Lombardi, an Oklahoma City district attorney, suggest the team of detectives who elicited Sneed’s implicating of Glossip, Robert Bemo and William Cook, used “coercive (interrogative) techniques” to scare Sneed about the death penalty. Lombardi saw a client, Marty Williams, subject to their behavior, and they allegedly had a reputation for this kind of thing. 

Last year, Sneed’s daughter, O’Ryan Justine Sneed, 21, penned a letter seeking clemency for Glossip. It also contains particularly damning information about her father: “For a couple of years now, my father has been talking to me about recanting his original testimony. But has been afraid to act on it, in fear of being charged with the Death Penalty (sic), and not be here for his children.” 

Different statements from past cellmates of Sneed are starting to surface, as well. Michael Scott, who lived in the cell across from Sneed at Joseph Harp Correctional Facility, remembered him flagrantly bragging about escaping the death penalty by blaming the crime on Glossip. Scott’s been quoted as saying,  “Among all the inmates (at Joseph Harp), it was common knowledge that Justin Sneed lied and sold Richard Glossip up the river.” The man literally bragged to inmates about the case. 

Moreover, Joseph Tapley, a cellmate with Sneed in Oklahoma County Jail, recalls Sneed “never gave (him) any indication that someone else was involved. (Sneed) never mentioned the name of Richard Glossip to (him).” 

Also worth mentioning is new testimony from Sneed’s former crystal meth dealer, David Barrett. Barrett claims Sneed used to frequently steal from the Best Budget Inn to support his addiction, and was “addicted to methamphetamine in a bad way.”

The tragedy of this whole case is that despite much more compelling witness evidence than presented at the original trial, the justice system – all the way up to the highest court of judges in the country – will not budge for a clearly innocent man. Does it speak on behalf of bureaucratic laziness, an obstinacy to defend the death penalty, or maybe a genuine belief in Glossip’s guilt? I sincerely don’t know.


Stephen Friedland is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at stephen.friedland@uconn.edu.