Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond
has appointed a special counsel to conduct a ‘thorough review’ of the case of death-row prisoner Richard Glossip, who has faced nine execution dates despite strong evidence that he is innocent of the 1997 alleged murder-for-hire of an Oklahoma City motel owner. In a news release issued January 26, 2023, two days after the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals rescheduled Glossip’s execution from February 16 to May 18, 2023, Drummond said that Rex Duncan (pictured), a former Republican state representative and two-term Osage County District Attorney, would conduct an independent investigation into Glossip’s innocence claim.
Although the Oklahoma courts had refused to grant Glossip a hearing on his allegations of innocence, he is still permitted to present those allegations to the Oklahoma Board of Pardons as part of clemency proceedings. “As my office will represent the State at the clemency hearing,” Drummond said, “it is my responsibility to ensure that we are appropriately responding to all evidence that has been presented through Mr. Glossip’s conviction and incarceration. Circumstances surrounding this case necessitate a thorough review.”
While Drummond expressed confidence in Oklahoma’s judicial system, he said that confidence “does not allow me to ignore evidence.” Part of that evidence is a 343-page independent report commissioned in February 2022 by a bipartisan group of 35 Oklahoma legislators that revealed extensive evidence supporting Glossip’s innocence claim. Stan Perry, who led the investigation by the law firm Reed Smith, concluded, “No reasonable jury, hearing the complete record and the uncovered facts detailed in this report, would have convicted Richard Glossip of capital murder.”
Glossip’s lawyer, Don Knight, issued a statement praising Drummond’s decision to reinvestigate the case. “The new evidence we have uncovered since 2015 shows conclusively, as the first independent investigation by Reed Smith found, that no reasonable juror who viewed all the evidence would find Mr. Glossip guilty of murder for hire,” Knight said. “We are confident that this new investigation will reach the same conclusion.”
Glossip was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1997 murder of his boss, motel owner Barry Van Treese. After his initial conviction was overturned, he tried a second time and again ssentenced to death. Glossip has consistently professed his innocence.
No physical evidence links Glossip to the murder, and the prosecution’s case rested on the self-serving testimony of his co-defendant, Justin Sneed, who confessed to killing Van Treese but, after numerous inconsistent statements, eventually claimed that Glossip had hired him to do so. In exchange for his testimony, Sneed avoided the death penalty.
Glossip came within hours of being executed in September 2015 before his execution was halted by then-Governor Mary Fallin when she was advised that the compounding pharmacy that supplied execution drugs to the state had substituted an unauthorized drug for one of the drugs required in Oklahoma’s execution protocol.
In February 2022, a bipartisan group of 35 Oklahoma legislators, led by Republican State Representative Kevin McDugle, engaged pro bono attorneys at Reed Smith to review Glossip’s case. The investigation team reviewed 12,000 documents, interviewed witnesses and jurors, and uncovered evidence that had never been presented to a jury. The firm’s report revealed that the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office had told police during the time that Glossip’s retrial was pending to destroy a box of evidence. Records indicate the box included financial records, duct tape, and a shower curtain from the crime scene.
Surveillance video from a nearby gas station that showed an unknown individual leaving the crime scene the night of Van Treese’s murder was entered into evidence, but then disappeared. McDugle called the destruction of evidence “gross misconduct,” saying, “We don’t seek convictions, we seek justice. If a defense attorney had done what the DA’s office did … charges would’ve been brought for obstructing justice.”
The report called the police investigation “sloppy and truncated” and sharply criticized law enforcement for an interrogation of Sneed in which they asked numerous leading questions that implied Glossip had been involved in the murder.
A supplemental report issued by the law firm subsequently revealed communications between Sneed and his lawyer suggesting that Sneed had wished to recant his testimony. The investigators also learned of communications between prosecutors and Sneed during the second trial, in violation of a witness sequestration order, that informed Sneed of other witness’s testimony so he could change the story he told the jury to avoid inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case.
Glossip filed two new challenges to his conviction based upon the new evidence, both of which were dismissed by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals without a hearing. In response, McDugle, who previously described himself as a strong proponent of capital punishment, wrote a blistering op-ed in The Oklahoman saying: “if the [Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals] cannot grant a hearing on this flimsy death penalty conviction, my confidence as a legislator in our state’s judicial system, and its ability to make just decisions and take responsibility for its failures, has been destroyed.”
McDugle has vowed to work to repeal the state’s death penalty statute if Glossip is executed.
Carmen Forman, Richard Glossip’s death-row case to be reviewed by independent counsel, Oklahoma AG says, Tulsa World, January 26, 2023; Nolan Clay, Oklahoma Attorney General Drummond hires independent counsel to review Richard Glossip case, The Oklahoman, January 26, 2023; Janice Francis-Smith, AG orders independent counsel to review Glossip’s death sentence, The Journal Record, January 26, 2023; Sean Murphy, Oklahoma AG appoints independent counsel in Glossip case, Associated Press, January 26, 2023.