After 17 years of appeals, Richard Glossip faces execution

Pending an emergency intervention by the US Supreme Court, Oklahoma is set to execute Richard Glossip, a convicted murderer, at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, even as he continues to maintain his innocence.

Janelle Stecklein/Community Newspaper Holdings/AP
Death row inmate Richard Glossip is pictured at the state penitentiary in McAlester, Okla., in November 2014. Mr. Glossip's attorneys said Monday that they will petition the Supreme Court to halt his execution, which is scheduled for Wednesday.

After nearly exhausting his appeals, death-row inmate Richard Glossip is set to be executed on Wednesday afternoon in Oklahoma, barring an emergency intervention by the US Supreme Court.

On Monday, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals rejected a last-ditch effort to postpone the execution further, saying in a majority decision that new evidence his lawyers argue exonerates Mr. Glossip wasn’t new or compelling enough to halt the execution.

If carried out, his execution would come amid a larger debate about a commonly-used sedative in lethal injections that some lawyers and inmates – including Mr. Glossip –  argue causes people unjust amounts of pain and suffering.

He has maintained his innocence for 17 years, saying that his conviction for ordering the 1997 murder of Barry Van Treese, who owned a motel where Glossip worked, was based solely on false testimony by Justin Sneed, a motel handyman who admitted to robbing and beating Mr. Van Treese to death, but said he was paid to do so by Glossip. Mr. Sneed, who was 19 when the murder took place, testified against Glossip in exchange for avoiding the death penalty; he is now serving a life sentence.

The case has taken a wide variety of twists and turns, with the state appeals court previously overturning Glossip’s conviction in 2001, saying the evidence supporting Sneed’s testimony that Glossip had promised to pay him $10,000 for the murder was “extremely weak,” Glossip’s lawyer was ineffective, and that jurors had allegedly consulted a Bible during their deliberations.

But three years later, a second jury convicted him again, sentencing him to death and setting off a lengthy appeals process that eventually grew to include a Supreme Court case. On Sept. 15, his lawyers again appealed to the state court, saying new evidence from a fellow inmate named Michael Scott pointed to Glossip’s innocence.

In an affidavit, Mr. Scott said that he overheard Sneed say he had acted alone and had  “...set Richard Glossip up, and that Richard Glossip didn't do anything."

With the court again rejecting that argument, 3-2, his lawyers have once again turned to the Supreme Court, which in June controversially upheld the use of midazolam, a sedative often used in lethal injections. Glossip had been at the center of that case, arguing along with fellow inmates and death penalty opponents that the drug did not induce the state of unconsciousness required for ordinary surgery and shouldn’t be used in executions.

"The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing," his lawyers wrote in a filing to the high court.

With Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, saying Glossip was justly convicted by two juries, the Supreme Court would be a final stop for Glossip in the battle to maintain his innocence. If he is executed, he would be the first person put to death since the high court’s ruling in June, just over a year after the state’s botched execution of Clayton Lockett, an Oklahoma man who reportedly suffered excruciating pain for 43 minutes before dying, setting off a debate about the use of lethal injection drugs.

When the state appeals court temporarily halted his execution two weeks ago, Glossip said he hoped the court would consider sparing his life, but wouldn’t be angry if he was executed.

“I won't let it bring me down,” he told the Associated Press. “If you've got to go out ... you don't want to be bitter and angry about it.”

This report contains material from Reuters.

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