Death row prisoner Richard Glossip’s multiple stays of execution may amount to torture
For the fourth time in the past year, the U.S. state of Oklahoma has issued a stay of execution for Richard Glossip, an almost certainly innocent man wrongfully convicted for contracting the murder of his boss in 1997. Beyond serious questions of the man’s guilt, his multiple brushes with death in such a limited period of time are the equivalent of state-sanctioned mock execution, prohibited under international torture conventions and under U.S. law.
Glossip was convicted of murder-for-hire 18 years ago after Justin Sneed, the man who confessed to the killing, claimed Glossip had hired him to do it, despite a total lack of evidence connecting Glossip to the crime. Sneed received a life sentence without parole in a medium-security prison, while Glossip was sent to death row based entirely on Sneed’s testimony.
Despite how crucial Sneed’s testimony was in convicting Glossip, the courts have largely overlooked the fact that he gave not one but eight different accounts of what happened the night Barry van Treese was murdered.
In recent years a number of people have come forward to say that Sneed’s fingering of Glossip lacks any credibility, including former cellmates who claimed that Sneed had boasted of getting out of a death sentence by selling out an innocent man. Even Sneed’s daughter claims that her father had lied about Glossip’s involvement in the crime, stating in a clemency letter last year that he would recant if it wasn’t for his own fear of being executed:
For a couple of years now, my father has been talking to me about recanting his original testimony. But has been afraid to act upon it, in fear of being charged with the Death Penalty, and not be here for his children. My father has no reason to do so as a favor to Richard, as him and Mr. Glossip have no relationship and have had no communication in the last 17 years. I feel his conscious is getting to him. His fear of recanting, but guilt about not doing so, makes it obvious that information he is sitting on would exonerate Mr. Glossip. I’m sure if he felt safe that he would not lose his Plea Agreement, he would give new and truthful testimony, much different that his Testimony 17 years ago. He has asked me several times to look into what the legal ramifications would be to his own case if he recanted.
Due to the massive amount of doubt surrounding Glossip’s conviction, his case has garnered worldwide attention, including from Pope Francis who on Wednesday urged Governor Mary Fallin to commute his death sentence and nearly 250,000 signers of a petition calling for his release. His supporters claim that his innocence makes his incarceration a gross violation of human rights, compounded by the multiple close calls he has had with the Oklahoma death chamber.
These brushes with death are described in a timeline of his case compiled by local Tulsa TV channel KJRH:
May 28, 2014 – Glossip’s execution date is set for Nov. 20, 2014.
Oct. 13, 2014 – Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt says the state does not have the drugs on hand or the medical staff prepared that is needed to carry out the state’s upcoming executions.
Oct. 24, 2014 – Stay of execution granted for Glossip and two other Oklahoma death row inmates
Oct. 24, 2014 – A state board voted unanimously not to recommend clemency for Glossip
Nov. 20, 2014 – Date Glossip was to be executed
Jan. 26, 2015 – State Attorney General Scott Pruitt asks for stays of execution for three death row inmates, including Glossip.
Jan. 26, 2015 – Application for stay of execution filed with United States Supreme Court. Glossip and two other inmates filed the application.
Jan. 28, 2015 – Supreme Court takes up inmates’ application for stays, pending final disposition of the case.
Jan. 28, 2015 – Glossip meets face-to-face with Sister Helen Prejean at the law library inside Oklahoma State Penitentiary.
Jan. 29, 2015 – Date Glossip was to be executed.
Aug. 10, 2015 – Actress Susan Sarandon takes to Twitter to fight against Glossip’s execution. She and Prejean rebutted tweets sent out by a spokesperson for Gov. Mary Fallin’s office.
Aug. 28, 2015 – The U.S. Supreme Court rejects a request for a new hearing. Scheduled execution will proceed.
Sept. 14, 2015 – Glossip’s attorneys claim to have new evidence days before client is scheduled to die.
Sept. 16, 2015 – Hours before his execution was to be carried out, anappeals court issued an emergency request for a stay for two weeks until Sept. 30.
As journalists Ziva Branstetter and Cary Aspinwall described the scene yesterday at the prison where Glossip was scheduled to die at 3:00 PM,
Outside the white walls of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, Glossip’s family and friends thought he was already dead. Reporters heard them crying out in anguish when they learned the Supreme Court had denied Glossip’s request for a stay.
It turned out Oklahoma didn’t have the right lethal drug to carry out the last step of his execution. Instead of potassium chloride, which stops the heart, the prison had potassium acetate.
“That’s just crazy,” Glossip said, via speakerphone held up as reporters crowded around. “Nobody has really said much of anything.”
Glossip has had four stays of execution, including on Sept. 16, the day he was to be put to death. The stay on Wednesday “is the most stressful it has been.” He had been moved to a holding cell and was not taken into the death chamber.
“I’m sitting there watching TV trying to keep up with the news and find out what’s going on,” he said.
So, basically, because the state of Oklahoma purchased the wrong drug to use on Glossip he got one more stay of execution with a new date to die in 37 days’ time. But as Sister Helen Prejean noted in a tweet yesterday following the Governor’s stay of execution, “If Oklahoma can’t be trusted to buy the right lethal injection drugs, how can anyone trust them to convict the right person?”
Beyond serious questions regarding the basic competence of Oklahoma state officials, yesterday’s stay of execution raises grave issues over the state’s – and by extension, the U.S.’s – compliance with the UN’s Convention Against Torture (CAT), which defines the crime of torture in Article 1:
[T]orture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.
As a state party to the CAT, the United States has adopted domestic legislation to ensure compliance with the treaty’s provisions. The Torture Statute, formally known as Title 18, Part I, Chapter 113C of the U.S. Code, defines the crime of torture as “an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control.”
“Severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from:
(A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
(C) the threat of imminent death.
Considering the fact that Richard Glossip has now faced the threat of imminent death not once, not twice, but four times, it is clear that his treatment violates the letter and spirit of both international conventions and domestic statutes. It is effectively a mock execution, which is even prohibited under U.S. military interrogation and detention guidelines.
The likelihood that he is in fact innocent only compounds the tragedy and seriously calls into question the United States’ commitment to basic human rights.
For more on the Glossip case, click here.
To add your name to the petition demanding that his execution be stopped once and for all, click here.