Growing up, I was one of the most ardent supporters of the death penalty. When people committed heinous crimes, I thought they deserved the ultimate punishment. At the time I was forming many of these opinions, there was much publicity around here about the Murrah Building Bombing and Timothy McVeigh. If that guy didn’t deserve the death penalty, I don’t know who does. Then I went to law school and took a capital punishment class taught by Oklahoma County Public Defender Bob Ravitz. I began to see the inherent problems with the death penalty. I saw that instead of the death penalty being put on the table in only the most rare of cases, like the Timothy McVeigh’s of the world, it was actually happening in routine cases. It was being unevenly applied based upon who the District Attorney happened to be, and whether there was an unusually aggressive ADA prosecuting the case. There are many counties in Oklahoma where a request for the death penalty hasn’t been filed in decades. And at the time, Oklahoma County, under Bob Macy, the death penalty was a common option. So basically it mattered more what county you committed your crime, rather than the crime committed.
I also learned that pretty much any murder is eligible for the death penalty. Sure you have to have what are called aggravating factors, but in reality, some of these factors can be alleged in most every murder.
I also learned that the death penalty is pursued, and given, at much higher rates against minorities for the same or similar crimes. So it is racist.
But most of all, the Innocence Project and DNA started proving people on death row were innocent of their crimes. 155 people have been freed from death row since 1973. Think about that number for a minute. One Hundred and Fifty Five people have ultimately been exonerated after being given the death penalty. Eight (8) Oklahomans are on this list, including Ronald Williamson who was one of the two innocent people in the fantastic book The Innocent Man by John Grisham. Statistics tell us that nearly 1 out of every 25 people sentenced to death row are innocent. Link This number makes it almost a certainty that we have executed an innocent person, and likely several innocent people.
I write this blog today because the State of Oklahoma is at the precipice of executing yet another person who may be innocent: Richard Glossip. While we weren’t there that day, we do know for sure who killed Barry Van Treese – Justin Sneed. We also know that the only evidence that links Mr. Glossip to the murder is the words of Justin Sneed, who reached a deal with the prosecution to avoid the death penalty if he testified against Mr. Glossip. That’s it. No fingerprints. No confession. No DNA. Just the words of someone trying to save his ass from being executed the only way he knew how. Today we have heard from Mr. Glossip’s defense team who has new evidence that Mr. Sneed had bragged to a cellmate that he set up Glossip. We have a letter from Sneed’s daughter who says she has serious doubts about Mr. Glossip’s guilt based on the fact her dad had talked about recanting his testimony, but was worried his deal would go away. We have a shoddy investigation. We have another letter co-signed by ex United States Senator Tom Coburn – a very conservative Republican that no one can accuse of being soft on crime – that requests a stay of execution. Letter. Add all this up and it equals a substantial possibility that Mr. Glossip is innocent and is thisclose to being executed.
THIS case is why the death penalty should be off the table. Potentially killing innocent people should not be a cost of killing guilty ones. Save Richard Glossip.