Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip says he remains optimistic after the state’s appeals court granted him a two-week stay of execution, only hours before he was set to die on Wednesday.
The court said it needed more time to consider new evidence in the case of Mr. Glossip, who is facing lethal injection after being twice convicted of ordering the murder of Barry Van Treese, who owned the Oklahoma City motel which he managed.
But Glossip has continued to maintain his innocence in the 1997 killing, and new evidence bolstering his claims has slowly emerged. He says he isn’t angry about facing a death sentence, but hopes the court will consider sparing his life.
"They'll never take that from me," Glossip told the Associated Press on Wednesday, after the court announced the stay. "I won't let it bring me down. If you've got to go out ... you don't want to be bitter and angry about it."
During Glossip’s trial, prosecutors maintained that he paid Justin Sneed, a motel handyman, $10,000 to kill Mr. Van Treese, fearing that Van Treese would fire him for embezzling money and poorly managing the hotel.
But their case mainly relied on the testimony of Mr. Sneed, who admitted to robbing and beating Van Treese with a baseball bat but said he did so only on Glossip’s orders. Sneed received life in prison for the murder as part of a plea deal in which he testified against Glossip in exchange for not having to face the possibility of the death penalty himself.
At issue in the appeals court’s decision is a claim by Michael Scott, a fellow inmate, that he heard Sneed say that he acted alone. In an affidavit, Mr. Scott claims he overheard Sneed say “"he set Richard Glossip up, and that Richard Glossip didn't do anything."
With Glossip’s execution now rescheduled to Sept. 30, his lawyers are working overtime as controversy continues to swirl around questions over executing an inmate despite doubts about the case against them.
In June, he was at the center of a prominent Supreme Court case focused on the legality of lethal injections. Along with two other inmates, he challenged Oklahoma’s use of a new drug combination as unconstitutional, saying it could cause extreme suffering.
The case was particularly poignant, coming just a year after the state’s botched execution of Clayton Lockett, who suffered intense pain for about 43 minutes after officials said they had sedated him. But the court rejected the inmates’ argument, 5 to 4, and Glossip was then set to die Wednesday.
Prosecutors said they were dismayed by the court’s decision to grant Glossip a stay, noting that he had previously been convicted twice.
“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,” Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said in a statement.
For now, it’s difficult to tell what may come next for Glossip. Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, previously rejected efforts to delay his execution. She now says she will respect “whatever decision the court makes,” but added that her thoughts and prayers were with the Van Treese family.
But for Glossip’s own family, the possibility of a reprieve at the 11th hour is particularly bittersweet.
His daughter, Erika Glossip-Hodge said she and family members were driving to the prison when they found out her father’s execution had been stayed.
"We're really excited," Glossip-Hodge said. "We actually got off the road and pulled over."
Glossip’s lawyer, Don Knight, described the moment as “joyous,” after such the disappointment of the Supreme Court’s decision. “It took his breath away for a second," Knight told the Associated Press.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.