- Sister Helen Prejeananti-death penalty activist.
Oklahoma death row prisoner Richard Glossip’s execution was stayed by the Supreme Court on Friday, marking the ninth time he had an execution date put on hold. Glossip has maintained his innocence throughout his 25 years of incarceration; his accuser has previously attempted to recant his testimony. In an unprecedented move earlier this month, Oklahoma’s Republican Attorney General Gentner Drummond filed a joint motion with Glossip’s defense team to halt his May 18 execution, saying he did not receive a fair trial. For more, we are joined in Oklahoma City by Sister Helen Prejean, one of the world’s most well-known anti-death penalty activists and Richard Glossip’s spiritual adviser, who says she is hopeful the Supreme Court’s intervention will mark the end of Glossip’s legal battles. “I believe Richard’s going to walk out a free man,” says Prejean. She is the author of Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty and River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! We end today’s show with an update on Oklahoma death row prisoner Richard Glossip, whose May 18th execution date was just stayed by the Supreme Court Friday pending the outcome of two cases he has pending at the high court. Justice Neil Gorsuch recused himself, likely because he had previously dealt with the case as a lower court judge. This comes after Oklahoma’s Republican Attorney General Gentner Drummond filed a joint motion with Glossip’s defense team to halt his May 18th execution, saying he didn’t receive a fair trial. Glossip has maintained his innocence for more than a quarter of a century — the ninth time he had an execution date that’s been put on hold.
For more, we’re joined in Oklahoma City by Sister Helen Prejean, Richard Glossip’s spiritual adviser, one of the world’s most well-known anti-death penalty activists.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Sister Prejean. You learned of the stay for Glossip on Friday just after visiting him in prison. Can you tell us if you heard how he responded? And what’s your response?
SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Well, first, my response is I have never heard of an attorney general confess to error in what the trial courts had done in Oklahoma about Richard Glossip, and eight votes to grant a writ of certiorari and grant a stay.
Richard, we had been visiting earlier. And I had left, and he was just really worried, because he was going to need to turn over to the prison officials all of his personal things — his cards, his letters, his photographs — before he was taken into that waiting cell, awaiting execution, which is a torture chamber for him. He was called to the door by the warden. He went, only to find out, “Richard, you got a stay from the Supreme Court.” So, he was just so deliriously happy.
The way this happened, what made that attorney general do this, it’s the hard, good work of Don Knight, the lawyer in his case, that not only pursued justice in the courts of Oklahoma, but also began to communicate with legislators and the political side of the death penalty. And these are all, 60 of them, GOP pro-death penalty legislators that Don works with, educates. Then they start doing their own investigation about Richard’s case, visit him, see him, meet him personally, and become very, very committed, and then, in that number, become — the attorney general calls them.
I’ve been with Richard two times where he came really within minutes, the last time, of execution. The man has gone through torture. But it’s refreshing to have for the first time an attorney general confess error in a case, because normally prosecution and the attorney general, everybody in the state, just holds fast, refuses to acknowledge error, and lets people be executed.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Sister Helen Prejean, what happens next? This is a temporary stay of execution? What happens?
SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Yeah, well, probably it will be a 30-day at first. But I’m really hopeful that when you have eight justices taking a writ of certiorari on a case, and you have prosecution refusing now to prosecute, then it means that I believe what will happen is they’ll remand the case. They’ll overturn what the Court of Appeals did in Oklahoma, and remand the case to the trial court again for another trial. And they’re not going to touch that with a 10-foot pole, because they have exposed, through investigation, the corruption that’s been present in the prosecution, of destroying evidence, of allowing lies by the chief witness, supposedly, that Richard Glossip masterminded it. They allowed those lies in court, hid from the jury that Justin Sneed, the one who claimed with — I mean, the videos show how the detectives just pumped that information to him that Richard Glossip was the mastermind. Justin Sneed had admitted from the beginning he murdered this guy. So, all that stuff will come out in a new trial. I believe Richard is going to walk out a free man.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Justin —
SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: But you know what, Amy?
AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.
SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Amy, just all the other guys on death row that are lined up for execution, they don’t have teams like this working for them. What is going to happen to them? So, my work is to go to the American public. We have to bring people close to the suffering, the needless suffering, that we can keep our society safe without killing human beings. So, eight of them came in for a visit while I was visiting with Richard, and they don’t have those teams helping them. So they go in to Richard, saying, “Can you get us — can you get us lawyers to help us?” And I just feel for them. We’ve got to change the whole thing in the United States to get the death penalty off the table. We can’t handle it.
AMY GOODMAN: As of January 12th, 2023, Oklahoma had 39 prisoners on death row, 11 scheduled to die this year. Sister Helen Prejean, you’re having a justice rally, I think is scheduled for May 9th. What is being called for there? We just have 20 seconds. Then we’re going to do a post-show to talk about your history with —
SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Yeah, right.
AMY GOODMAN: — Richard Glossip.
SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Yeah. So, the rally, which we encourage people to come to, is going to celebrate what happened with Richard, because it’s a lot of work and courageous legislators standing up for him, but to look toward the reforms that this bipartisan committee has recommended for the Legislature about the death penalty in Oklahoma, 40 reforms. They’ve done none of them. So, we’ve got to look toward reforming the whole system, and that’s what the rally is going to focus on —
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Sister Helen Prejean —
SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: — as well as a celebration.
AMY GOODMAN: — I thank you so much for being with us. We’ll do Part 2, put it at democracynow.org. Sister Helen Prejean, anti-death penalty activist, author of Dead Man Walking. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.