OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma’s state parole board voted Wednesday not to recommend clemency for death row inmate Richard Glossip, even though the state attorney general said he doesn’t think the condemned man whose case has drawn celebrity interest received a fair trial.
The Pardon and Parole Board deadlocked 2-2, meaning it won't recommend that Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt grant clemency to Glossip, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection on May 18. One board member recused himself because his spouse is a prosecutor who had previous involvement in Glossip's case, leading Glossip's lead attorney to object to the move in his opening remarks Wednesday.
There is no formal mechanism to appeal the board's decision, and Stitt would have needed the board's recommendation in order to grant clemency. But Glossip's attorneys filed a motion in state district court asking a judge to prevent his execution from being carried out until a full five-member clemency panel can review his case. They also have a pending petition before the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to halt the execution.
“We will pursue every avenue in the courts to stop this unlawful judicial execution,” Glossip's lead attorney, Don Knight, said in a statement after Wednesday's vote.
The vote came despite the state’s new Republican attorney general, Gentner Drummond, taking the unusual step of arguing on behalf of granting clemency — his office typically asks the board to allow executions to proceed. Drummond said that although he doesn’t believe Glossip is innocent, he thinks he didn’t receive a fair trial and deserves a new one.
After the hearing, Drummond issued a statement expressing his disappointment.
“Public confidence in the death penalty requires that these cases receive the highest standard of reliability,” he said. “While the state has not questioned the integrity of previous death penalty cases, the Glossip conviction is very different. I believe it would be a grave injustice to execute an individual whose trial conviction was beset by a litany of errors.”
Before the hearing, reality TV star Kim Kardashian urged her millions of social media followers to contact the parole board and Stitt in a bid to stop the execution. Two years ago, she threw her support behind another Oklahoma death row inmate, Julius Jones, whom Stitt spared hours before his scheduled execution.
Glossip, 60, has long maintained his innocence in the 1997 killing of his former boss, motel owner Barry Van Treese.
Glossip, who was convicted of paying an accomplice, Justin Sneed, to kill Van Treese, told the board Wednesday via video from death row that he knew of no plan to harm Van Treese and that he “feels terrible” about what Van Treese’s family has endured.
“I would never have thought about paying anybody to commit a crime. I absolutely did not cause Justin Sneed to commit any crime against Mr. Van Treese, let alone to murder him,” a tearful Glossip said.
“I’m not a murderer and I don’t deserve to die for this,” he said.
Van Treese’s widow and son, Donna and Derek Van Treese, asked the board to deny clemency.
“The fact is he was brutally murdered,” a visibly emotional Donna Van Treese said. “Our desire and our hope today is justice will be served for our beloved Barry.”
Derek Van Treese said he has felt angry and frustrated by years of delays in the case and the publicity that has come to surround it.
“This case has been pushed from being a legal matter to a political issue. It’s been pushed from the court of law to the court of public opinion.” he said. “All due diligence has been served. Two juries — 24 members of the public — listened to the same evidence. Both juries have found Richard Glossip to be guilty of these charges and rendered the same sentencing.”
Last week, an Oklahoma appeals court upheld Glossip’s conviction despite Drummond’s concerns about some testimony and evidence.
Drummond said in a court filing that although the state isn't suggesting that Glossip is innocent, he had numerous concerns about the case, such as trial evidence that was destroyed while his appeal was pending and the state's failure to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence, including that the key witness against Glossip, Sneed, lied to the jury about his psychiatric treatment and reasons for taking the mood-stabilizing drug lithium. But the court rejected that request last month, paving the way for Glossip's May execution.
Two independent investigations — one by a Houston law firm and another requested by Drummond — have concluded that based on all of the evidence available today, it would be unlikely a jury would vote to convict him.
Glossip was convicted and sentenced to death at two separate trials after his first conviction was tossed for ineffective counsel. Sneed, a handyman at the motel, admitted robbing and killing Van Treese but claimed he did so only after Glossip promised to pay him $10,000. In exchange for his testimony, Sneed received life in prison. He has denied several Associated Press interview requests.
Glossip's attorneys claim that police suspected Glossip because of some inconsistent statements he made during the search for Van Treese, and that while interviewing Sneed, he never mentioned Glossip until after detectives brought up his name six times and emphasized that Glossip was “snitching on him.” The attorneys suggest in their clemency application that Van Treese's killing was not a murder for hire, but a botched robbery for drug money committed by Sneed and his girlfriend.
"Richard Glossip is an innocent man who has been the victim of a massive breakdown in the justice system that would have been disturbing had it occurred even in a minor case," they wrote.
Glossip has been scheduled to be executed three times, only to be spared shortly before the sentence was set to be carried out. He was only hours from being executed in September 2015 when prison officials realized they had received the wrong lethal drug, a mix-up that helped prompt a nearly seven-year moratorium on the death penalty in Oklahoma.
Glossip’s case attracted international attention after actress Susan Sarandon — who won an Academy Award for her portrayal of death penalty opponent Sister Helen Prejean’s fight to save a man on Louisiana’s death row in the 1995 movie “Dead Man Walking” — took up his cause in real life. Prejean herself has served as Glossip’s spiritual adviser and frequently visited him in prison. His case also was featured in a 2017 documentary film titled “Killing Richard Glossip.”
Associated Press writer Ken Miller contributed to this report.
Follow Sean Murphy on Twitter: @apseanmurphy