Update: OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday issued a stay of execution for Richard Glossip.
The court reset his execution date for Sept. 30.
Less than four hours before Glossip was set to die at 3 p.m. at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, the court issued the order. Glossip was sentenced to death in 2004 for the 1997 killing of Barry Van Treese.
This week, Glossip's attorneys announced they had discovered new evidence in the case and requested a 60-day stay from Gov. Mary Fallin, who rejected the request Tuesday. Also Tuesday, Glossip's attorneys filed a request with the Court of Criminal Appeals seeking a stay of execution to allow time for the court to to review the new information.
“Due to Glossip’s last-minute filing, and in order for this court to give fair consideration to the materials included with his subsequent application for post-conviction relief, we hereby grant an emergency stay of execution for two weeks,” the order said.
The order noted that the Court of Criminal Appeals had previously denied Glossip post-conviction relief.
An Oklahoma County jury convicted Glossip of first-degree murder in the death of Van Treese, who owned the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City. Glossip was the resident manager.
Van Treese discovered money was missing from the motel and was going to confront Glossip about it, according to case documents.
Prosecutors alleged that Glossip hired Justin Sneed, a friend, to kill Van Treese. Sneed, 19, had worked at the motel doing maintenance.
Van Treese was killed Jan. 7, 1997, at the motel with a baseball bat. He died of a head injury caused by blunt force trauma.
Sneed pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life without parole. He testified at the trial of Glossip, who got the death sentence.
"I really believe this is a prudent way for the court to proceed," said Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater. "I respected that. That is our process."
Prater said he is "100 percent" confident that Glossip is guilty.
Fallin issued a statement after the court took action.
“As I have repeatedly said, court is the proper place for Richard Glossip and his legal team to argue the merits of his case," she said. "My office will respect whatever decision the court makes, as we have throughout this process.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to the Van Treese family who has suffered greatly during this long ordeal.”
In its response to the stay request filed Wednesday, Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office said Glossip was not entitled to relief.
"The family of Barry Van Treese has waited 18 agonizing years for justice to be realized for his brutal death,” Pruitt said. “The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals indicated it needs more time to review the filings. I'm confident that the Court of Criminal Appeals, after reviewing the filings, will conclude there is nothing worthy which would lead the court to overturn a verdict reached by two juries who both found Glossip guilty and sentenced him to death for Barry Van Treese's murder."
So pleased the court has given Richard Glossip's legal team time to find additional proof of his innocence. I am hopeful not only for him— Susan Sarandon (@SusanSarandon) September 16, 2015
MORE TO COME ON THIS STORY
Here's the earlier version of the story:
By Samantha Vicent
World Staff Writer
More than 18 years have passed since Richard Glossip was arrested in connection with the beating death of his boss at an Oklahoma City motel. On Tuesday, about 24 hours before his scheduled execution for the death of Barry Van Treese, Glossip lost one of his final chances to avoid Oklahoma's death chamber.
Gov. Mary Fallin rejected Glossip’s request for a 60-day stay of execution, increasing the likelihood that Glossip, 52, will be executed at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Glossip’s attorneys began filing another round of appeals late Tuesday, the first an application for post-conviction review with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. They also were expected to file a petition for review with the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver by Wednesday morning.
The appeals are part of the final efforts from a man whose case has triggered international attention as death-penalty opponents try to have his life spared. Many of Glossip's supporters question how the state can put Glossip to death while the person who confessed to the actual slaying was not condemned.
Death penalty opponent Sister Helen Prejean has made public appearances on Glossip's behalf and insists he is innocent. Two juries have disagreed.
This week, Glossip's attorneys released two affidavits with statements that appear to cast doubt on the credibility of Justin Sneed, who admits to killing Van Treese but says he was ordered to do so by Glossip.
Fallin's office says its review of the case indicates that jurors made the right decision.
"The deeper our review goes, the more convinced we become of Richard Glossip's guilt," said Alex Weintz, Fallin's spokesman. "His lawyers simply haven't presented any information that would make anyone in my office believe that the 12 jurors who convicted him got it wrong."
One juror's account of Glossip's trial
Glossip's supporters have decried every aspect of his case, from the way Glossip's earlier defense teams represented their client to the use of capital punishment.
A juror from Glossip's 1998 trial wrote a letter to KOKH-TV, Oklahoma City's Fox affiliate, stating the juror would reconsider the verdict in light of information that hadn't been presented at the time.
But Juror No. 1 in Glossip's 2004 trial, identified as David Piscitello, told the Tulsa World he is tired of the publicity and judgment from those who were not in the courtroom when either trial took place.
"I was in there for 30 days," Piscitello said in a phone interview. "A month of my life, 8 hours a day was dedicated towards (the trial) and people are coming in and trying to undermine (the verdict) ... It just irritates me."
Piscitello wrote a letter to Fallin's office saying he supports her decision to go forward with Glossip's execution, and he told the World that the evidence shared by Glossip's attorneys during a press conference Monday did not change his confidence in the jury's verdict.
At first, he said, he was torn between a life-without-parole decision and the death penalty. But, he said he based his decision on evidence presented at trial that Glossip was manipulative and controlling.
"If it wasn't for (Glossip), this kid (Sneed) never would have killed Barry Van Treese," he said. "He was the mastermind. So we decided to hold him to a higher level of accountability."
As Juror No. 1, Piscitello was the closest to the stand and said he found Sneed and others who testified to be believable witnesses.
"If he wasn't, he missed his calling because he would have been an Academy Award winner as an actor," he said.
Glossip did not take the stand, although interrogation tapes showing him with police were played in court.
"You could see him trying to work the detective," Piscitello said. "He came across in the interrogation tapes like a manipulator ... They asked the detective what he thought and ... He said the same thing, 'He's trying to bull---- me. He's a bull----ter.'"
Piscitello said he hasn't discussed the case at length since finishing the trial but was compelled to do so after talking to an investigator with Glossip's legal team who visited his home within the past week.
"The worst thing you can do to a juror is come up and say 'You helped execute an innocent man,'" he said. "From what we were presented at the trial that I was at and the group I was with, I can meet my maker with a clear conscience. I thought we delivered the right verdict."
The state's case against Glossip
Van Treese was asleep inside Room 102 at his motel late Jan. 6, where he typically stayed when making overnight visits. He had stopped by to issue checks on payday and get updated on his business' operations.
Prosecutors claimed Glossip, the motel's manager, feared being fired because of the motel's poor condition and Van Treese's discovery that thousands of dollars were missing from the hotel's books. Sneed, a maintenance worker who was paid with room and board, did "pretty much whatever Rich asked him to do," according to trial testimony from their co-worker Billye Hooper.
Prosecutors argued that Sneed was only 19 and had an eighth-grade education, meaning his limited intelligence and life circumstances made him fully dependent on Glossip. Court records also claimed Sneed believed he would be fired along with Glossip and forced to leave the complex.
Prosecutors and police said Sneed — who they claim was promised up to $10,000 — entered Room 102 with a master key and beat Van Treese to death with a baseball bat. He then knocked on Glossip's door early Jan. 7 and told him what he had done.
Later, according to court records, Glossip helped Sneed cover the room's window with Plexiglas, since it was broken during Sneed's struggle with Van Treese.
Prosecutors alleged the pair went to Van Treese's car after the killing and split about $4,000 they found under a seat. Police found most of that money among the pair's possessions when they were arrested.
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals later called it "the most compelling corroborative evidence" for the state's case, because no evidence indicated Sneed knew Van Treese kept large amounts of cash related to his business dealings in his car before Glossip told him.
Glossip was found guilty of first-degree murder for remuneration and sentenced to die in 1998. He received the same conviction six years later after his first trial verdict was overturned on appeal.
In Glossip's second trial, Hooper, Sneed's co-worker, told the jury she did not believe Sneed would have killed Van Treese without being told to do so.
Sneed's account has remained consistent since Glossip's first trial. Now 37 and serving life without parole in Lexington's Joseph Harp Correctional Center, he still maintains Glossip ordered the killing.
"For one, he didn't know the man hardly at all," Hooper was recorded as saying. "... I wouldn't see, in my opinion, why he would have a reason to do such a violent act to someone that he hardly knew."
Glossip told Hooper the window of Room 102 had been broken after a drunken fight, and Sneed told authorities the two fabricated that story to throw suspicion off them. Oklahoma City police found Van Treese's body 17 hours after he died.
Initially, Sneed was nowhere to be found.
"Rich's reaction to Justin, the fact that he left the property when Barry was there, things like that, just sort of started tying together," Hooper said of her belief in Glossip's involvement. "Because as a rule, he never would have done any of those things ... with Barry there."
Appeal records indicate Glossip began selling his possessions immediately after Van Treese's death because "he was going to be moving on" and after being detained he admitted actively hiding Van Treese's body not to protect Sneed, but because he felt like he "was involved in it."
Glossip has since filed multiple appeals, including one to the U.S. Supreme Court that challenged the drugs Oklahoma uses for lethal injection. His execution date was set following the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Glossip v. Gross, which ruled the use of the drug midazolam in executions was constitutional.
Glossip's supporters question strength of case
Glossip's attorneys and other supporters have been outspoken about their objections to his death sentence, saying he was convicted based on circumstantial evidence supported by the word of Sneed, who they say has motive to stay silent for fear of being sentenced to death himself.
No direct evidence, such as fingerprints or DNA, exists that ties Glossip to Room 102 the night Van Treese died, and they argue killing Van Treese for his money was illogical. They additionally claim police interrogated Sneed in a way that led him to name Glossip as a suspect.
Defense attorneys in both trials suggested Sneed acted alone. Glossip's new attorney, Don Knight, released an affidavit from a man who said he knew Glossip's brother Bobby, who was estranged from Richard Glossip. The man said he knew Bobby Glossip because they sold methamphetamine together out of Room 102 to people, including Sneed.
The teenaged Sneed, according to the affidavit, had an addiction that was the catalyst for him reportedly stealing items from motel rooms and cars parked in the motel parking lot, and the new attorneys have implied Van Treese was killed because of Sneed's drug habit.
Another affidavit, signed by a former inmate who was housed at the same prison as Sneed, alleged he overheard Sneed brag about setting Glossip up to take the harsher sentence in Van Treese's death.
Glossip's website includes a letter that Prejean and others claim was written by Sneed's daughter, O'Ryan Justine Sneed, which states her father has talked to her about recanting his testimony and expresses belief in Glossip's innocence.
O'Ryan Sneed has not publicly confirmed writing the unsigned letter and she has not spoken to media about the case. It was intended to be reviewed by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board during Glossip's October clemency hearing, but was not received in time to be included in the file.
On Aug. 31, Prejean and Sarandon appeared on a broadcast of the Dr. Phil show, which was wholly devoted to discussion of his case.
Since the show aired, billionaire Richard Branson has written a letter calling for Fallin to stay Glossip's execution. Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, also joined Coburn, former U.S. Attorney John Raley Jr. and former University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer in urging Fallin to prevent what they said would be a mistake.
When contacted by the World, Coburn declined additional comment, but Scheck said "skepticism is in order" when a state sentences someone to death and that enough questions have been raised about Glossip's guilt to warrant a stay.
"One of the reasons we reached out to the senator is that it's our experience there is a coalition between conservatives and liberals on criminal justice reform," Scheck said. "One of the things that conservatives recognize is that the death penalty, particularly on the issue of innocents, is a serious problem."
Mark Henricksen, one of Glossip's attorneys, said the legal team is looking into a new report that evidence was destroyed during Glossip's first appeal. They're also trying to determine if surveillance footage from a nearby establishment may show Sneed's involvement in the crime.
The delay in presenting the new information to the court, he said, was partly due to getting witness statements under oath in affidavit form, adding that attorneys haven't known about most of the recent developments for more than a few weeks.
Governor sees no reason to cast doubt on verdict
Fallin released a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying the attorneys have rejected requests from public officials to examine the new information.
"After reviewing it with my legal team, we have determined the vast majority of the limited content they have presented is not new; furthermore, we find none of the material to be credible evidence of Richard Glossip’s innocence," she said. "After carefully reviewing the facts of this case multiple times, I see no reason to cast doubt on the guilty verdict reached by the jury or to delay Glossip’s sentence of death."
Van Treese's family has previously provided statements to the World discussing their belief in Glossip's guilt and said his execution would mean justice has been served.
"I hope the execution brings a sense of closure and peace to the Van Treese family, who has suffered greatly because of Glossip’s crimes," Fallin said.