- Don Knight
one of the pro bono attorneys representing death row inmate Richard Glossip.
- Sister Helen Prejean
one of the world’s most well-known anti-death-penalty activists. As a Catholic nun, she began her prison ministry over 30 years ago. She is the author of the best-selling book, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty. The book has been translated into numerous languages and turned into an opera, a play and an Academy Award-winning film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. Helen Prejean is also the founder of Survive, a victims’ advocacy group in New Orleans. She continues to counsel not only inmates on death row, but also the families of murder victims.
An Oklahoma appeals court granted death row prisoner Richard Glossip a last-minute stay of execution on Wednesday only hours before he was slated to die. The decision was a response to an emergency request filed by his lawyers Tuesday afternoon. The decision came down at 11:30 a.m. — only three-and-a-half hours before his scheduled execution by lethal injection. Glossip’s new execution date is September 30. We speak to Don Knight, one of the pro bono attorneys representing death row inmate Richard Glossip. Also with us is Sister Helen Prejean, one of the world’s most well-known anti-death-penalty activists. As a Catholic nun, she began her prison ministry over 30 years ago. She is the author of the best-selling book, “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty.”
NERMEEN SHAIKH: An Oklahoma appeals court granted death row prisoner Richard Glossip a last-minute stay of execution on Wednesday, only hours before he was slated to die. The decision was a response to an emergency request filed by his lawyers Tuesday afternoon. The decision came down at 11:30 a.m.—only three-and-a-half hours before his scheduled execution by lethal injection. Glossip’s new execution date is September 30th.
Richard Glossip was convicted in a murder-for-hire case in 1997 when he worked as a manager at the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City. He was accused and convicted of paying a maintenance worker named Justin Sneed to kill his boss, Barry Van Treese.
AMY GOODMAN: There was never a question about who committed the murder. Justin Sneed admitted entering the boss’s room, striking him multiple times with a baseball bat. But Glossip was soon arrested, as well, for allegedly hiring Sneed to carry out the murder. The case rested almost solely on Sneed’s claims that Glossip had offered him money and job opportunities for the killing. Glossip’s attorneys say Sneed implicated their client in exchange for a deal to receive life in prison instead of the death penalty. No physical evidence tied Glossip to the crime.
Joining us now is Don Knight, one of the pro bono attorneys representing death row prisoner Richard Glossip. Also with us on the phone is Sister Helen Prejean, one of the world’s most well-known anti-death-penalty activists. As a Catholic nun, she began her prison ministry over 30 years ago, is author of the best-selling book, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! But let’s first go to the studio, to Don Knight, in Oklahoma City. Explain what happened. Three-and-a-half hours before he was slated to die, he got a stay of execution. What happened? Why was Richard Glossip spared—was his life spared yesterday, though the date has been set for two weeks from now?
DON KNIGHT: We filed a petition with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals asking that they consider our evidence of innocence that we had compiled and that we had given to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday afternoon. Obviously, they took a look at it. I think they found merit in it. I don’t know the reasons why they did not grant an indefinite stay and a hearing, but I think that they just want to go ahead and look over the evidence and make sure that they’re doing the right thing. But we were just so thrilled to have the opportunity to get a two-week stay, because we know they’re going to take it seriously, and that’s what we’re asking for. We think the evidence is good. We think it is strong. It shows Richard Glossip’s innocence.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what that evidence is.
DON KNIGHT: Basically, Amy, what’s happened in this case is the government constructed a narrative, and it’s a real tortured narrative of this murder for hire, when actually the real story is just a very common story of a drug addict doing what a drug addict often does, and that’s steal to keep his habit going, and in the course of stealing to keep his habit going, he ended up killing a man.
And we found evidence of a witness, who was a drug dealer and who will testify, if this case gets a hearing, that Justin Sneed was buying methamphetamine three or four times a week from him, he was injecting it intravenously, he was definitely a methamphetamine addict. And furthermore, there is clear evidence that he was stealing from the rooms at the hotel, using his passkey as the maintenance man, and he was also stealing from the cars in the area.
And that’s exactly what he told the police himself in the—about the third story that he told in this case to the police, that he was going into Barry Van Treese’s room, using his passkey to do so, to get the keys from Barry Van Treese’s pants that were on the couch, and he was going to take them out, and he was going to then go to Barry Van Treese’s car, where he knew the money was, and he was going to steal that money. And I think it’s pretty clear now that he was going to steal that money for the purposes of buying more methamphetamine.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to ask about comments that were made by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt Wednesday. He said he’s certain this review will not result in anything new, saying, quote, “I’m confident that the Court of Criminal Appeals, after reviewing the filings, will conclude there is nothing worthy which would lead the court to overturn a verdict reached by two juries who both found Glossip guilty and sentenced him to death for Barry Van Treese’s murder.” Don Knight, your response?
DON KNIGHT: Well, this canard that they continue to throw out that there was two juries, they use that when they want it to seem like the death penalty is inevitable here. The first trial was so poorly conducted by the defense that the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals itself reversed it and gave it back to the court for retrial because of ineffective assistance of counsel. The truth is, the second trial, he didn’t—Mr. Glossip didn’t get much better lawyering in that case. We’ve been out working real hard for the last six—
AMY GOODMAN: Don Knight is one of the pro bono attorneys representing death row prisoner Richard Glossip. We’re just having a little problem with getting some hits on the satellite signal in Oklahoma City, but I think he’s back. Continue, Don.
DON KNIGHT: Thank you. Mister—well, let’s see. Oh, in the last 90 days, we’ve been out once again [inaudible] investigation that we have found has never been conducted by the lawyers for Mr. Glossip in the second trial. Witnesses that should have been talked to never were talked to. There was almost no investigation done, so that when the time came for trial, there was no preparation done. A very poorly conducted cross-examination of Justin Sneed took place once again, and there was no facts presented to back up what we have now found to be true, which is that Justin Sneed was in fact a drug addict and was stealing from the rooms.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain the deal that Justin Sneed was offered by police detectives questioning him? Talk about the audiotape of them saying to him that he would avoid the death penalty if he implicated Glossip.
DON KNIGHT: These two police officers were really quite good at what—at how they sort of shifted and continued to sort of watch Justin, I think, and play him to get him to where they wanted him to be. And once they got him to say the story that they really wanted him to say, which was to implicate Richard in this pay-for-murder scheme, they went ahead and just simply confirmed with him that they had given him—they had given the police everything that they wanted and that it would really help him and he’s really done himself a favor. And he was asking about the death penalty, and they said, “Well, we can’t be sure, but, you know, you’ve really done yourself a good service here today.” So, and then, a few months later, he signed a plea deal—
AMY GOODMAN: Again, Don Knight is our guest, one of the pro bono attorneys representing death row prisoner Richard Glossip. He’s speaking to us from Oklahoma City. Oklahoma is where Richard Glossip is being held and was slated to die yesterday. Now that execution date has been put off by two weeks. We’re also joined by Helen Prejean, Sister Helen Prejean, one of the world’s most well-known anti-death-penalty activists. You are in Oklahoma City, as well, Sister Helen. Explain your reaction to this last-minute reprieve.
SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Well, yes, Amy, first of all, let me just explain, being with Richard the night before, I want to say this man has more spiritual poise, I think, than anyone I’ve ever met. He’s totally a transparent, innocent person. And he was sharing, because we’ve had such a big worldwide campaign, some of the letters that he has gotten. And he was taking such heart, like the letter of a man who was about to commit suicide and plopped down on his couch and then saw the Dr. Phil show in which Susan Sarandon read Richard’s statement, and he looked at it, and he just said, “I mean, look what that guy put up with, 18 years. He’s innocent, he’s been on this death row,” which is underground, as you know, in Oklahoma. And he picked up his life. And he got another letter from a little girl who was fighting cancer and said, “Mr. Glossip, you give me courage.” So, our conversation—and this could have been the last time I ever talk to him, because the execution was to happen the next day, and they kept him in isolation after that. I was amazed that someone could be ready to go to death or to live. He felt his life had made a difference, because, he said, that’s what everybody wants to do.
So then, the next day, I knew Don and them were just struggling furiously, frenetically, to get it into the court. They got it into the court at around 4:15 in the afternoon. And I was just—there was a quietness in my heart and a hopefulness, because I know they had done such good work, and they actually made the argument—I had never been in a case before, but they actually made the argument for actual innocence, which the Supreme Court made very hard to do in the Herrera decision. But when I heard how they were advancing the arguments and the way Don had been able to present at press conferences about the alternative scenario—here’s what really happened—showing that this guy was a really bad drug addict who was stealing all the time. You don’t need to interject Richard Glossip into the story to give this guy a motive or to motivate him to go kill somebody, you know? It was so spurious, what the prosecution was doing. So that alternative scenario and narrative had started to get out there.
And then I knew Don and them, with just two witnesses, major, one showing that Justin Sneed was such a drug addict and how hooked he was on meth, and then there was another one, and I’ll probably—we ought to let Don tell about this, because Don had said to me, “Look, when people do a murder like this, they always talk about it. We got to go find somebody in jail with Sneed where he talked about what he did and that he had set Richard Glossip up.” And sure enough, they found that witness. And just those two witnesses in there—it was such a shoddy investigation, it was nonexistent. And yet you could just see how the Oklahoma district attorney and the governor propped this thing up: “Of course justice was done in our court. Of course there couldn’t have been a mistake.” And it was all a mistake.
And we got the truth out enough in the world, around the world, literally, that there was public—there was an atmosphere of “Wait a minute, something’s really wrong with this case. How can you execute a man solely on the word of somebody who admitted he had done a murder and was now serving a life sentence in a medium-security prison, and without forensic evidence, just bring a man to execution?” And as Richard himself said, this just shows how broken this thing is. And he said, “Even if I die, enough people now have heard about this that it could help bring down the death penalty in this country.”
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much for joining us, Sister Helen Prejean. Again, Richard Glossip’s life has been spared for two weeks. And, of course, we will continue to follow this case, his death now slated for September 30th. Sister Helen Prejean in Oklahoma City, dealing with Richard Glossip, and Don Knight from a studio in Oklahoma City, one of the new pro bono attorneys representing death row prisoner Richard Glossip, thanks so much.
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