Less than two weeks before Richard Glossip was scheduled to be executed on May 18th for the murder for hire of his former boss, the US Supreme Court intervened and granted a stay of execution. This is not the first time Glossip’s execution has been stayed–in fact, this would be the state’s 10th attempt to execute him. Glossip has been on death row for 25 years.
The Court’s short, unsigned order came four days after Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond “filed a highly unusual brief supporting Glossip’s request to stay his execution. Drummond explained that state officials now believe that Glossip’s conviction should not stand and that it would be ‘unthinkable’ to allow his execution to go forward – but that the Oklahoma courts nonetheless refused to block the execution.” Amy Howe, Justices put Oklahoma man’s execution on hold, SCOTUSblog (May 5, 2023, 5:00 PM), https://www.scotusblog.com/2023/05/justices-put-oklahoma-mans-execution-on-hold/
The decision by the Supreme Court to intervene has been met with mixed reactions. Supporters of Glossip argue that he is innocent and that his trial was marred by prosecutorial misconduct, false testimony, and inadequate legal representation. They point out that Glossip was convicted based largely on the testimony of a co-defendant who received a plea deal in exchange for implicating Glossip in the murder. Additionally, there is no physical evidence linking Glossip to the crime.
In an 11-page filing on May, Drummond – joined on the brief by Paul Clement, who served as the U.S. solicitor general during the George W. Bush administration – noted that he “does not agree with everything Glossip has said in this case or in this Court and [he] continues to oppose” an earlier petition for review, filed in January. But, Drummond continued, he was “troubled” by the state’s failure to correct Sneed’s false testimony about whether he had seen a psychiatrist. Because he had “reached the difficult conclusion that the conviction of Glossip was obtained with the benefit of material misstatements to the jury by the State’s key witness,” Drummond explained, he planned to agree with Glossip that the court should review the most recent ruling by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, rejecting Glossip’s request to set aside his sentence.
Howe, Justices put Oklahoma man’s execution on hold, supra.
Opponents of Glossip’s stay of execution argue that he has had numerous opportunities to prove his innocence in court and that the state has followed due process in pursuing his execution. They point out that Glossip was convicted by a jury of his peers and that his appeals have been heard by numerous judges at both the state and federal level.
Regardless of one’s position on the death penalty, Glossip’s case highlights the flaws in the U.S. justice system. Glossip’s case is just one of many examples of wrongful convictions and inadequate legal representation that have resulted in innocent people being sentenced to death, including:
- Cameron Todd Willingham: In 1991, Willingham was convicted of setting a fire that killed his three children. He maintained his innocence until his execution in 2004. In 2009, a report by the Texas Forensic Science Commission found that the evidence used to convict Willingham was based on faulty science and that the fire was most likely accidental.
- Anthony Porter: In 1982, Porter was convicted of killing two people in a Chicago park. He was sentenced to death, but his case was overturned in 1999, just two days before his scheduled execution, after a group of Northwestern University journalism students uncovered evidence that another man had confessed to the crime.
- Kirk Bloodsworth: In 1985, Bloodsworth was convicted of the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl in Maryland. He was sentenced to death, but his case was overturned in 1993 after DNA testing proved his innocence. He was the first person in the US to be exonerated by DNA evidence.
- Carlos DeLuna: In 1983, DeLuna was convicted of stabbing a gas station clerk to death in Texas. He was sentenced to death and was executed in 1989. In 2012, a report by the Columbia Human Rights Law Review found that DeLuna was likely innocent and that the prosecution had relied on faulty eyewitness testimony and failed to investigate another suspect.
- Troy Davis: In 1991, Davis was convicted of killing a police officer in Georgia. Despite substantial doubts about his guilt, including recantations by several key witnesses, Davis was executed in 2011. His case sparked international outrage and renewed calls for the abolition of the death penalty.