Oklahoma set to execute man whose lawyers claim is innocent

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 30, 2015 7:12 AM

By Jon Herskovitz

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - Oklahoma is set on Wednesday to execute a man who was convicted of hiring a hit man to murder the owner of a motel, despite the objections of the death row inmate's lawyers who say they have evidence that points to his innocence.

Richard Glossip is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection at 3 p.m. local time at its death chamber in McAlester. Glossip, 52, was found guilty of arranging the 1997 murder of Barry Van Treese, the owner of an Oklahoma City motel that Glossip was managing.

Glossip is the second of six inmates scheduled to be put to death in the United States this week and next week, a rare spate of executions. There were 35 executions in the nation in 2014.

On Wednesday, Georgia executed its first woman in seven decades, Kelly Gissendaner. Pope Francis, an outspoken death penalty opponent, had urged officials to commute her death sentence during his trip to the United States.

Pope Francis also appealed to Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, a Republican, to commute Glossip's death sentence in a letter from a representative the state received on Sept. 21, Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said on Wednesday.

"The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals considered Glossip's petition and denied a further stay. The governor will respect their decision," Weintz said.

Glossip's lawyers said no physical evidence tied Glossip to the crime and he was convicted largely on the testimony of Justin Sneed, then 19, who confessed to carrying out the killing and said Glossip hired him to do it.

Sneed is serving a life sentence and avoided the death penalty by testifying against Glossip.

The lawyers presented new statements from jail house informants who said Sneed confessed to setting Glossip up so that he could avoid a death sentence.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Monday denied a request to halt the execution, saying in a majority decision it found the evidence was neither new nor compelling enough to merit postponing the execution.

Glossip's lawyers have asked federal courts to halt the execution.

"The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing," his lawyers wrote in a filing with the U.S. Supreme Court.

An Oklahoma appeals court had thrown out a previous conviction, saying evidence against Glossip was "extremely weak." A jury in 2004 again found him guilty and upheld the death sentence.

If carried out, Glossip's execution would be the first in Oklahoma since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June the use of midazolam, a sedative in the lethal injection procedure, did not violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Lawyers for Glossip and other Oklahoma death-row inmates had challenged midazolam, saying it could not achieve the level of unconsciousness required for surgery possibly causing undue suffering and was therefore unsuitable for executions.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Heide Brandes; Editing by Nick Macfie and Lisa Lambert)