National News

Supreme Court Blocks Richard Glossip’s Execution While Reviewing His Case

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington on March 27. (Photo: OSV News)

WASHINGTON — In a brief order issued May 5, the Supreme Court blocked Oklahoma’s upcoming execution of death row inmate Richard Glossip scheduled for May 18.

The court said it put the execution on hold while it reviewed the case, requested by Glossip’s attorneys and Oklahoma Attorney General Drummond, who has stressed that Glossip did not receive a fair trial 26 years ago.

The high court’s order noted that Justice Neil Gorsuch did not participate, which some indicate is likely because Gorsuch heard Glossip’s case years ago as an appeals court judge.

“We are very grateful to the U.S. Supreme Court for doing the right thing in stopping Richard Glossip’s unlawful execution,” said Don Knight, an attorney for Glossip, in a May 5 statement. “There is nothing more harrowing than the thought of executing a man who the state now admits has never received a fair trial.”

“Thankfully, for the time being, Mr. Glossip is out of peril,” he added, saying he hopes the court will ultimately reverse the decision of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals and “vacate Mr. Glossip’s conviction once and for all.”

Catholic death penalty opponents similarly applauded the court’s action.

“This was great news to learn just minutes after I finished a visit with Rich on Oklahoma’s death row!” tweeted Sister Helen Prejean, a Sister of St. Joseph and longtime activist against capital punishment.

She was referring to a visit with Glossip. Eight years ago, she agreed to his request to accompany him at his execution. She has kept in touch with him and urged others to plead his case, asking Oklahomans during a May 4 press conference at the state capitol to call on their governor to stop Glossip’s execution.

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, the national Catholic organization working to end the death penalty, also was pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision. She said Glossip’s case “has captured the nation’s attention because it shines a spotlight on so much of the brokenness in our death penalty system.

“Glossip should not be put to death — not on May 18, not ever,” she said in a May 5 statement.

This is not the first time Glossip’s case has been to the Supreme Court. He was given a reprieve in 2015 — although the court later ruled against him — in a case involving the drugs used in lethal executions.

Glossip, who has been in prison for more than 25 years and has had his execution called off several times, has gained public attention in recent months with faith leaders, lawmakers, and public figures like Kim Kardashian pleading his case.

After two different investigations questioned the validity of Glossip’s death sentence, Oklahoma’s attorney general argued that Glossip should receive clemency, but in late April, the state parole board voted not to recommend clemency for Glossip and since then, his attorneys filed a motion in state district court asking a judge to prevent his execution until a clemency panel can review his case.

Glossip, a 60-year-old former motel manager, was convicted of the 1997 murder of his boss, Barry Alan Van Treese, at the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City.

Recent investigations into his case revealed a faulty police investigation and intentional destruction of evidence. The reports also drew attention to Justin Sneed, the motel handyman, serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to beating Van Treese to death with a baseball bat at the hotel.

Sneed originally testified that he killed Van Treese after Glossip, the motel manager, promised to pay him $10,000. The recent investigations said Sneed had asked several times about recanting his testimony.

Glossip’s attorneys claim Sneed killed Van Treese during a botched robbery for drug money and claim he framed Glossip to avoid getting the death penalty.

Vaillancourt Murphy said Glossip’s case “shows how arbitrarily death sentences are handed down, with the undisputed killer, Mr. Glossip’s co-defendant, receiving a life sentence compared to Mr. Glossip’s sentence of death.”

She also noted that his case “lays bare the unbelievable cruelty of capital punishment,” pointing out that Glossip has “faced nine different execution dates over the years — an unthinkable number. On three occasions, he has eaten his last meal, said his goodbyes, and come within hours of losing his life.”