New attorneys in death row inmate's case claim evidence proves actual innocence
OKLAHOMA CITY —
There are three men scheduled to die by lethal injection in Oklahoma. According to state officials the three men represent the "worst of the worst" and are the reason for the death penalty in Oklahoma. Supporters of the first of those three men say his case falls short of what the death penalty is meant for.
"The death penalty you say you believe in is not the one Oklahoma has in practice," said noted anti-death penalty advocate Sister Helen Prejean. Sister Prejean is also serving as Richard Glossip's spiritual advisor as he faces execution. "Richard Glossip is in great shape," she told reporters, "He's in better shape than I am."
Sister Prejean believes Glossip is innocent. She has used her connections to bring additional attorneys to the case to investigate Glossip's case, but those attorneys say their time is short and they are having to make up for mistakes made during the initial investigation 18 years ago.
"On January 7, 1997, Barry Van Treese was murdered, nothing that i will say today is any way intended to diminish Barry Van Treese's life or the suffering that his family has felt ever since that horrible day," said attorney Don Knight. Knight said police suspected Glossip early in the case an ignored other potential suspects staying at the motel owned by Van Treese. "There was also some man who left, who left the motel around 4:00 that morning and seemed to be in a hurry," Knight said he has discovered, but police never identified that man who told a gas station attendant he needed to get out of the state quickly that same morning. Knight said there was also a man who had a previous murder conviction in Arkansas who was staying at the motel that had testified he had bought drugs in the very room where Van Treese was murdered.
Knight said Glossip's case is the weakest death penalty case he's seen during his practice. The only evidence linking Glossip to the planning of the murder is the testimony of Justin Sneed, who confessed to killing Van Treese with a baseball bat. "The forensics in this case such as they are all point to Justin Sneed, none of it points to Richard Glossip, as I said this is the thinnest of reeds here."
In addition, the prosecution's theory was the murder was motivated by money. However Sneed would eventually testify he took $4,000 from Van Treese after the murder. That was money Glossip had already turned over to Van Treese from motel receipts the day before. When investigators found Van Treese's car, there were thousands of dollars left untouched in the trunk. "One wonders," Knight said, "If robbery was the motive, how did that money not get picked up and what was money $23,100 doing in Barry Van Treese's trunk with blue dye on it?" Knight said police never explained in the reports or the trial why some of the money was dyed with a color common to dye packs used to deter thefts of money from banks.
"We're fighting like you know what behind the scenes and I know the uphill battle we have, it's going to take a miracle, but you've got to fight you've got to do everything you can," Sister Prejean said. The legal strategy is to continue the investigation and submit what's known as a "successor's petition" to the courts in hopes of getting a new hearing on claims of actual innocence. However both Sister Prejean and Knight say the odds of that happening are steep.
"I'm scared to death quite frankly," Knight said, "I'm scared to death i am terrified that we can't get enough information to get back in front of a court." Knight said Glossip has never had adequate representation in court. His first trial was overturned due to ineffective assistance of counsel and his second trial relied on public defenders who lacked the funds to do a proper investigation. Knight said Glossip's appeals have also lacked any true investigation into the facts of the case, which he says is crucial to the success of a claim of actual innocence.
Glossip's supporters hope the Governor will step in, but the governor's office said all she can do is order a 60 stay of execution at which point the death penalty would still be carried out. Her office told Fox 25 that Glossip's claims of innocence have been rejected by juries and judges and in this case "the legal process has run its course."